Just over 60 miles north of my office in Colorado Springs sits Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos and the official headquarters of Tim Tebow mania. Excitement is not only growing in these parts, but fans around the country and even the world are rooting for the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. A colleague recently returned from China and informed me that Tim’s #15 is the number one selling jersey in the Middle Kingdom.Never mind that the team is 2-4 this season, hasn’t been to a playoff game in five years and isn’t expected to qualify for the postseason this year either. The fascination with Tebow isn’t primarily his ability to win games but rather the method and means by which he goes about playing the game and living his life.
Ever since Tim and his mom appeared in Focus on the Family’s Super Bowl commercial in 2010, people have been asking me why so many are drawn to this son of former Christian missionaries. Is it just because he’s a Christian and other believers want to root for one of their own, a sort of “Christian mafia”- type loyalty and mentality? Undoubtedly there’s an element of that going on, but even people who aren’t football fans are fans of Tim Tebow.
Here’s why I believe there is such widespread and cross-cultural affinity for the guy:
People have grown weary of scandal and controversy in all areas of life, including sports. They’ve grown tired of having to set aside their values and root for a person or a team of questionable morals and character. They don’t like having to explain to their kids why a favorite player has been arrested, suspended and jailed.
Individually and collectively, whether we like sports or not, we’re hungry for heroes and eager to root for a good guy who does good things. Enter Tim Tebow, a true gentleman who boldly and unapologetically proclaims Jesus Christ as Lord of his life.To be sure, Tim is not the first professional athlete to publicly and robustly express his or her Christian faith.
There is a long and storied history of stars who turned a portion of their platform into a pulpit of sorts, from the baseball-player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday in 1887 to basketball great David Robinson, and, more recently, two of this week’s World Series participants, the Cardinals’ slugger Albert Pujols and the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton.
I, along with millions of others, admire these athletes not merely because of how they perform – but because of how they conduct themselves while doing so.
At the same time there has always been a degree of unease among some regarding this blending of faith and sport. Some commentators have labeled Tim Tebow one of the most “polarizing” figures in all of sports. Such a claim is curious, even perplexing, especially when you consider and contrast all the good that Tim has done with the fact that over 40 NFL players have been arrested in this calendar year alone. Their alleged crimes range from rape to drunk driving. Yet Tebow’s antagonists have mocked everything from his virginity to his clean vocabulary. He refuses to respond to the cheap shots. Good for him.
To be clear, we’re not putting Tim on a pedestal or suggesting in any way that he’s perfect, but from my perspective, the NFL – and our world – needs more Tim Tebows.
The Scriptures promise us “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). And so in the coming years I think we’ll continue to see Christian athletes like Tim Tebow lifted up and singled out, at times derisively, because of the widening cultural and moral chasm between biblical truth and societal norms. But be it Tebow, Hamilton, Pujols or a star yet to come on the scene, they (and we!) can take comfort knowing that in holding firm to biblical principles, the world may deem them foolish, but in God’s economy, they will be “fools for Christ” (1 Cor 4:10).