What is it about Tim Tebow?

Justin Edmonds GETTY IMAGES Quarterback Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos walks off the field after a game against … Continued

Justin Edmonds


Quarterback Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos walks off the field after a game against the Detroit Lions at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 30, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Lions defeated the Broncos 45-10.

When I learned that Tim Tebow was going to get this first start of the season at quarterback for the Denver Broncos, I reached for the remote and programmed the DVR.

That I would take this urgent action despite my waning interest in pro football, despite a long list of productive and recreational to-do’s vying for my time – despite it being a game between cellar-dwellers with a combined record of 1-9-tells you a lot about the phenomenon that is Tim Tebow.

He’s the guy we can’t not watch.

There has been much in the media about Tebow’s successes, failures, and polarizing effect this fall, including a lengthy ESPN “Outside the Lines” segment, untold hours of sports-talk arguments, and endless newspaper and magazine column inches. Tebow has become more, much more, than simply a second-year NFL player trying to stay in the starting lineup and get a successful pro career off the ground. The stakes, it seems, have become infinitely higher.

For those who steer clear of sports news, here’s the Tebow persona in a nutshell: Good looks and wholesome magnetism. A rugged, gung-ho playing style, times ten. A throwing technique that leaves you shaking your head in dismay. A pronounced, outspoken Christian religiosity that, depending on your religious persuasion, sets your teeth on edge or makes you swoon in appreciation and reverence. It’s that very outspoken Christian piety, in particular, that seems to have made Tebow not so much a young athlete as a flash point in the culture wars.

You’ll find Tebow haters who cringe at his every utterance and revel in his every fumble or incomplete pass. Especially when he talks about his Jesus, or takes a knee in prayer on his football-field stage – “Tebowing,” as it’s now called in the Internet parlance — eyes roll. You’ll find others in whose eyes Tebow walks on water. To his most ardent Christian supporters, Tebow is not merely a quarterback, but Jesus’ champion on the football field. In the view of these fans, criticizing his throwing motion is tantamount to attacking Christianity itself. It’s as if he carries the weight of Christianity and its cultural credibility on his padded shoulders.

As with Tebow, as with the larger ongoing national argument about evangelical Christians and their place in culture and politics: two American cultures butting heads, seeing only the worst in the other, and over-reacting to perceived slights and threats.

As one who has publicly criticized Tebow’s faith expression as simplistic and exclusive, as out of step with the real and present pluralism and tolerance we have in America, I confess to being annoyed by Tebow at times. While playing for the Florida Gators in his college days, he took the crusading, winning-for-Jesus project to its apotheosis, especially with his “facial evangelism,” as I call it — the practice of inscribing scriptural references on his eye black, for all the camera close-ups to see. (The practice, not incidentally, has been banned by the NCAA since Tebow’s ascension to the professional ranks.)

As is the custom among evangelical Christians, Tebow evangelizes. That’s his right; it’s what his faith compels him to do. And when you consider that millions of people Googled “John 3:16” after he made it his verse du jour for the 2009 college championship game, you have to give it to him. He succeeded. He was effective. Not to mention the fact that his team won.

There are no real blemishes on Tebow’s public record to suggest he’s a hypocrite or a sham. He seems too good to be true. Yet through several years of intense scrutiny, the Tebow Story stands up as just that — true. No abuse of women. No mistreatment of teammates, opponents, or fans. He does genuinely good deeds for kids and prisoners. That these often come with a dose of evangelism troubles many of us who are less religious. But by putting himself out there to help people, by resisting the temptation to abuse his stardom in the obnoxious ways certain other Christian sports stars have done (see: “Roethlisberger, Ben”) Tebow has earned the right to share his religious message more than any religious athlete who comes to mind.

Personally, I think it’s time for a timeout when it comes to over-reacting to Tim Tebow. Those of us who don’t share his evangelical convictions should feel free to enjoy watching him make one of those swash-buckling runs for a first down. Those who share his evangelical convictions should feel fully empowered to exercise their God-given rights as fans and get mad at him, criticize him, when he stumbles into the clutches of blitzing linebackers or throws a pass that flutters to the ground like a wounded duck.

With Tim Tebow there’s enough drama, enough of a rollicking ride, on the football field alone to keep us riveted. We don’t need to imbue his story with unwarranted cosmic meaning. Think of what happened in the Miami game a week ago Sunday, in his much-anticipated first start of the season. After three and a half quarters of futility, Tebow and the Broncos came alive and pulled off a stunning 15-point rally in the final three minutes to force overtime and set the stage for a dramatic victory. It was compelling football theater.

What can you say about Sunday’s performance? Tebow went a dismal 18-for-39 passing, fumbling three times, as the hapless Broncos absorbed a 45-10 pounding by Detroit in a game that brought new meaning to the concept of Christians being thrown to the Lions. So much for the euphoria from the previous Sunday. Tebow even found his faith being openly mocked when some Lions team members impersonated his ‘Tebowing’ prayer pose on the field. But Tebow prides himself on always getting back up after he’s been knocked down, and I suspect he’ll do it again.

Justin Edmonds


DENVER, CO – OCTOBER 30: Defensive end Willie Young #79 of the Detroit Lions makes a diving effort to try and tackle quarterback Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos during the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 30, 2011 in Denver, Colorado.

Whatever my mixed feelings about Tim Tebow and his religiosity, this much is certain. I will be watching again next Sunday.

Tom Krattenmaker

is a Portland-based writer specializing in religion in public life and a member of USA TODAY’s board of contributors. He is the author of the 2009 book

Onward Christian Athletes

on Christianity in pro sports.

Tom Krattenmaker
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  • tommyothomcd

    Tebow is an incompetent professional quarterback trying to use religious faith to secure a starting position. Just like a taliban.

  • lawrence090469

    Teabow’s a great athlete, and probably a nice guy, up to his involvement with fundamentalist Christianity, which is irredemably mean spirited, misogynist, homophobic, bigoted, and decidedly un Christlike. Plenty of decent, wholesome people go to church on Sunday, and I have no problem with it. When you start shilling for those Dominionist M-F-ers at Focus On the Family then I start having a problem.

  • presto668

    “He’s the guy we can’t not watch.”

    No he isn’t. I not-watched him all day.

  • coreypaul

    All conservative Christians should be rounded up and eliminated. They are more of a threat than all Muslim terrorists that may reside in the USA.

  • Mitchavery7

    kurt warner actually won something before pushing his religion. still ridiculous but at least he had some professional cache. tebow just sucks.

  • Everetthitch

    I know that articles like this are supposed to make the writer feel better about his own failings, but this has to be the millionth article written on this same subject.

    The guy is a Christian. He admits it and shows it. Better yet he LIVES it.

    In this world full of hypocrites, why do we feel the need to criticize someone who isn’t one?

    Is it the fact that he ISN’T a hypocrite the reason why you dislike him so? does he make you feel less about yourself?

    He doesn’t force ANYONE to listen to him. He just plays football and shows professes his belief in something greater.

    What’s wrong with that?

    The sad thing about all this criticism is that it would not be happening if Tebow was anything other than a Christian.

    Anyone who says otherwise is lying to themselves.

  • Everetthitch

    Show me one instance where Tim Tebow “pushed” his religion on anyone.

    Your comment is ridiculous. So in your mind someone has to somehow “earn” the right to show his beliefs?

    Tim Tebow and those like him will always be a better person than you.

    No matter what you tell yourself.

  • Everetthitch

    Careful. Your weekend pass will be taken away for comments like that.

    Sound like your meds need to be adjusted.

  • Everetthitch

    After reading some of the comments on here I’m embarrassed to say that I posted my own comment.

    these are some of the most insane and hate filled comments I’ve ever seen.

    Nest time I’ll read the comments first so that I’m not in the same company as these nut jobs.

    The sad thing is, they all claim that Tebow belongs to some “hate filled religion” but at the same time they are spewing some of the worst, and most disgusting things I’ve ever seen.

    Look in the mirror freaks.

  • masonmakita

    does tim have to work on his mechanics? sure.

    but in retrospect, weeks 7 and 8 were like training camp OR preseason for the guy. he lost his pro bowl receiver (ask Feeley how much he loves brandon) and tim needs time (repetition) w/ his remaining WRs (like all QBs do). hopefully broncos brass allows him more starts = to the amount of training camp/preseason reps he would’ve had if awarded qb#1 before the season.

    anyone who’s playd understands NO qb will succeed when his o-line allows their qb to be sacked 7+ times in 1 freakin game. jeez, look at what the bills did to beck (your prototypical qb).

    it’s won or lost in the trenches always

  • williambellah

    Jesus was a young man and probably horsed around with his friends once in a while, he might of even played a little catch, who knows. You have to respect anyone who stands up for what they believe, I hope this young man is still standing when life gets rough or his faith is tested like it sometimes must be.

  • ccnl1

    From the Land of Loading More Comments:

    Dear Tim,

    You are suffering from the Three B Syndrome, i.e. Bred, Born and Brainwashed in your religion specifically Christianity.

    Some added details:

    “John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident (the randomness) of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.

    The Situation Today
    Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed. “ J. Somerville

    It is very disturbing that religious narrow- mindedness, intolerance, violence and hatred continues unabated due to randomness of birth. Maybe, just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions.

  • ryansteve3

    It appears Mr. Krattenmaker is too close or perhaps too opinionated on the topic to be objective. He speaks of a real and present pluralism and tolerance, but rails in fear against the conspiracy of evangelical Christianity. Stars and celebrities, religious or not, are often obnoxious and provocative; it’s not an earned right, it’s a means to increase earnings. And the Lions (i.e. “Tebowing” on field) were not ‘openly mocking his faith’, they were mimicking popular culture and attempting to belittle an opponent during a competition, a far more shallow and impulsive gesture.
    Certainly Tebow’s well known Christianity has much to do with this story having so much traction, but the single biggest reason is that he grabbed headlines in college, winning two national championships, the Heisman Trophy, and numerous other major awards. His unorthodox style and heart on his sleeve approach (e.g. openly crying during a game, passionate post-game statements, etc.) gained him numerous fans, religious and otherwise. He is a football player first and a religious celebrity second. Had he not had success at Florida I expect his religion would still be the same.
    Tebow’s faith expression is not the story here; it’s the underlying schisms in America; cultural, political, religious, economic, etc. Pluralism and tolerance do not exist, and this ‘story’ is just another means for those on opposite sides to sling mud at one another. Tebow’s limited skills will soon have him out of professional football, and he should be free to do as he wishes with his life; we’ll have to come up with another venue by which to attack each other.

  • TheDiz

    Tim appears to me to be a part of the movement to convert this nation to a theocracy. Please check your religion at the door. What kind of person really thinks that “God” or Jesus is going to intervene in their performance in a game? If I were God, I’d find this kind of behavior offensive, and you know what God does when he gets offended, don’t you?

  • itsthedax

    Tebow is just the latest in a long series of sports narcissists. He’s been spoiled and taught to believe that he’s something special because he has some athletic ability. He just packages it differently.

    So when he flops down in front of a crowd to make people look at him, his message is: It’s not about ME, its about how much God LOVES ME, and how God GIVES ME TALENT. I’m NOT SPECIAL, but God PICKED ME OUT and REWARDS ME, but its not about ME.

  • easterboy

    Reading the mean comments of every anti-Christ Tebow haters I realized what above article was saying is true.

  • kmoo

    You think the Tebow phenomenon is all about religion? In this day and age when political figures and sports figures are less than moral ,Tim Tebow breathes fresh air into this arena. Tebow is everyone’s son, brother,grandson,nephew. Someone to be proud of and admire. It wouldnt matter if Tebow never threw another pass or won another game . Fans would still love and admire him and in Florida he is “our” Tim Tebow.

  • kmoo

    Sour grapes from a Gator Hater!

  • kmoo

    You think you are God

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