Denver quarterback Tim Tebow made his first start of his NFL season yesterday, a game that ended in a heroic 18-15 overtime win over the Miami Dolphins for the former Heisman winner.
Over the last two years the quarterback with a linebacker’s body and a hitch in his throw has been one of the most talked about players in the league. Last season his Broncos jersey led the NFL in sales. His cult-like Denver fans bought a billboard in support of him as the starting quarterback for the team. The constant when-will-he-start drama has even driven him to be the most reported backup quarterback on ESPN's Sports Center.
But Tebow is seen as so much more than the darling quarterback of the NFL. For many young Americans, Tebow is becoming a leading evangelical voice and is helping inspire a new generation of young Christians.
To his devoted fans, Tebow represents all that’s good with America. Tebow, the son of Christian missionaries, is also quarterbacking an international preaching campaign to spread his faith.
Tebow always finds ways to advertise his faith. During the 2009 Southeastern Conference championship game, Tebow wore “John 3:16” on his eye black, inspiring 94 million fans to Google “John 3:16.” Weeks before, Tebow assured a reporter that he was “saving himself for marriage.” Tebow has been clear that he sees his football career as a vehicle for a divine mission.
Tebow’s success so far comes from a combination of professionalism and acting the part of the believer.
In an ad first aired during last year's Super Bowl, Tebow appeared with his pro-life mother to speak out against abortion. While pregnant with Tebow, his mother Pam suffered a life-threatening infection caused by a pathogenic amoeba. When drugs were used to rouse her from a coma caused by the illness, the fetus suffered a severe placental abruption. Her doctors recommended an abortion for her safety, but the stalwart Christian refused.
Despite the platform his on-field persona provides him, Tebow’s success in preaching is dependent on his off-field life. Modern Christianity is littered with outspoken believers in the public eye who quickly fall away. Ted Haggard, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Larry Craig, Milely Cyrus, Jimmy Swaggart … the list of outspoken Christians who have fallen from grace goes on. To some their names are tragedies or illustrations of the difficulties of maintaining Christian values. To others they remain reminders of the hypocrisy of those who tell you how to live your life.
In an age of pluralism, the ultimate test is often whether you practice what you preach. Hypocrisy ranks as one of the gravest sins in the public eye. If Tebow is serious about his mission he’d better make sure that he preaches to himself as much as any audience. How much he listens to himself will determine his future success.
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