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January 08, 2009

Tebow

The Real Deal?

The BCS College Football National Championship game is tonight. Florida vs. Oklahoma.

A few months ago, I met Pam Tebow at a conference where we were both speaking. Pam is the mother of Tim Tebow, arguably the best player in college football. Tebow has led the Florida Gators to their second national title game in three years, which will be played tonight.

Tebow does not fit the bill as the best football player in the country. Why? Well, among other things, he was homeschooled. In fact, the conference where I had the privilege of meeting Pam was a home educators conference in Jacksonville, FL.

To be honest, I may have offended Pam, though unintentionally of course. After speaking with her about how much I admire how her son plays (he plays very hard, every down — sort of a football version of Tyler Hansbrough), I asked her how he was doing spiritually after making the transition to college. Her reply was, "I guess you don't read the paper very often?"

Actually, I read the paper every day. But, the Colorado Springs Gazette doesn't carry many stories on Florida football, even if they do boast the best player in the country. Still, her question was a good one because, at least back east, Tebow's reputation off the field is as impressive as his reputation on the field. He speaks at schools and prisons, he shares his faith, and he annually travels to the Philippines assisting his dad's mission work there.

Of course, Tebow isn't perfect. It is possible that he will play terribly tonight, or that he can't make it in the NFL, or that, God forbid, he will make a mistake off the field that sullies his strong testimony, fulfilling the predictions of those who are so used to seeing world-class athletes act like perpetual juvenile delinquents that they cannot believe that Tebow actually walks the talk.

Just two days ago, ESPN's Pat Forde wrote an article about all of this. Here's how the article began:

Back in July, in a ballroom in a Birmingham, Ala., hotel during Southeastern Conference media days, a reporter asked Tim Tebow the following question:

"I don't mean to sound cynical, but between winning the national championship and winning the Heisman, saving the world in the Philippines and all, did you ever, like, sneak a cigarette when you were in high school? Do you ever do anything wrong? Do you feel like everything off the field is sort of on cruise control for you?"

My immediate reaction: Lord help us. Sporting America has become too jaded to appreciate Tim Tebow. We've been Marion Jonesed and Mark McGwired and Barry Bondsed into suspecting there must be a dark side to the Florida quarterback, who does so many things right on and off the football field. We roll our eyes at his "saving the world in the Philippines," when how many among us have bothered to go across town to help the poor, much less across the globe the way Tebow has? We've been conditioned not to trust a virtuous athlete when he's right in front of us.

Forde is right. Modern celebrity culture makes us at the same time cynical when we see virtue in others and dismissive when we don't see it in ourselves. Not sure if Forde is a believer, but you can certainly tell he is impressed. And, it is refreshing for a sports reporter to take note of something that is, well, bigger than sports.

Take a minute and read the article. Not only is it well-written with a refreshing perspective, but if you ever happen to run into Pam Tebow, you won't ask the same silly question that I did.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a Gator football fan. But it's hard not to root for Tebow.


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