I like Tim Tebow. If confession is good for the soul, then I feel better already. No star athlete has been more polarizing than the former Florida All-American quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner, and current TV broadcaster turned minor-league baseball celebrity. We’re all familiar with his life story—rescued as a nearly aborted fetus, born to missionary parents, returning as a teenager to the Philippines to serve the needy, and destined as a young adult for on-the-field stardom—his experiences and exploits are worthy of any Spielberg masterpiece. However, despite his incredibly good looks, engaging personality, and charitable works, not everyone’s a fan. Whether you love him or hate him, one thing’s for certain. People are drawn to Tim Tebow like dogs to their own vomit.
Nowhere is this more evident than on a random Thursday night in Lexington, where the Columbia Fireflies—the single A affiliate of the New York Mets for whom Tebow roams the outfield—are playing the Lexington Legends. Tonight, over 7500 fans flood into Whitaker Bank Ballpark, a testament to Tebow’s star-drawing power. Although he takes the time to patiently sign a slew of autographs for fans in the stands, on this particular evening, he can’t get it going on the field. In four plate appearances, Tebow grounds out, walks, and strikes out twice as the Fireflies dispatch the Legends 3-2.
Earlier this afternoon prior to batting practice, Tebow met with a gaggle of about 25-30 reporters hanging on his every word, all jockeying for position to ask their pointed questions in search of that perfect sound bite. Tebow was patient, respectful, thoughtful, and courteous in the short ten-minute free-for-all. You would think that having to deal with so many overzealous media members repeatedly asking the same mundane questions every single day would send any normal athlete reaching for the Xanax. But Tebow keeps his cool, poised regally over your microphone with his chiseled physique, looking you in the eye and flashing you that disarming, square-jawed smile. I like Tim Tebow.
So why does someone so perfect still have so many detractors? Critics claim that he’s a fraudulent spaghetti-armed quarterback who charmed his way into the NFL. His weak arm strength, lack of passing accuracy, and inability to read defenses has been dissected ad infinitum. As gaudy as his stats were in college, he simply never lived up to the expectations and hype in the world of play for pay. But neither did Vince Young, Tommie Frazier, Matt Leinart, Doug Flutie, and Tim Couch—all of whom had less than stellar professional careers but receive far less hate mail than Tebow. Achievement wise, one could argue that Tim Tebow is the greatest college football quarterback in the history of the game. Even as a controversial NFL passer, I thought his skills and acumen were greatly underappreciated while leading the Denver Broncos in 2012 to their first playoff victory in six years. Furthermore, as my fantasy football quarterback that year, Tebow was more than serviceable. Another reason I like Tim Tebow.
Seriously, I think the real reason for his numerous detractors has nothing to do with his football prowess, but rather his personal values. Tebow wears his faith publicly on his sleeve, just as all Christians are challenged to do. He unashamedly shares his religious beliefs openly, boldly, and confidently—and that offends many in this world of political correctness and moral relativity. “Tebowing” to acknowledge God after a big play on the field or imprinting Hebrews 12:1,2 on his eyeblack on gameday is viewed by many as shameless self-promotion. Raising money for pediatric cancer patients, building Timmy’s Playrooms in children’s hospitals and providing care for orphans is somehow dismissed as disingenuous piety. Just listen to Tebow on the Jimmy Fallon Show talking about sponsoring a prom for people with special needs and you can judge for yourself. Most in the secular world view Christians as judgmental and hypocritical. In all these areas, Tim Tebow is neither. Those who know him well, say it’s all real, genuine, and sincere. I really like Tim Tebow.
When I asked him why he thought he was so passionately loved and hated at the same time, his response was predictably diplomatic. “I’m not sure,” he chuckled. “Passionate is a good word on both sides. I’m grateful for all the support… They’ll be people holding up posters saying they’re praying for me while at the same time they’ll be people who may have had a little too much to drink and they’ll egg you on.”
Tebow really lit up when I queried him about the importance of his athletic achievements giving him the necessary platform from which to speak. “Having a platform gives you the opportunity to talk about things that really matter,” he answered with conviction. “I know regardless of what I do over there at that plate tonight, it doesn’t really matter. But if I can take the platform that football and baseball and whatever else has given me, and I can go into a hospital and make a kid smile, if I can put on proms around the world, if I can inspire people, if we can change lives in the hospital with our playrooms, or if we can give kids wishes…We’re doing something that’s worth talking about, that for reporters are worth being here—not for a silly baseball game.”
His answers are a reflection of the world we currently live in, a world where suffering abounds and persecution runs rampant. It’s a world in need of good people with servant hearts—convicted, passionate, and loving role models armed sufficiently with courage, charisma, and a world-wide platform on which to share–people exactly like Tim Tebow. It also really helps if you can throw a football or hit a baseball. In those areas, Tim Tebow still has a lot to prove—and despite his critics, he continues to persevere for the right reasons. That’s why I like Tim Tebow, and hopefully you do too.
This blog posting was originally submitted as an exclusive column for Bluegrass Sports Nation publications.