When Tim Tebow of the Denver Broncos takes the field in Miami later this month, his ardent supporters will be hoping he succeeds not only as an athlete, but also as one of the most outspoken conservative Christians in professional sports.
Since first coming onto the national stage as a star college athlete, the Heisman trophy winner has received just as much praise for his play as he has for his faith. A devout Baptist, Tebow is the son of Bob and Pam Tebow, Christian missionaries who have been preaching in the Phillipines for over 25 years, believing that "many Filipinos would believe in Jesus if they were just given the opportunity," their website says. Tebow shares that belief, as he spent many summers while growing up training as a missionary in the Philliines.
While a quarterback for the Florida Gators, Tebow remained true to the faith his parents instilled in him as a child when he turned down an opportunity to appear in a Playboy magazine spread with other college football stars. Although he gained some respect among conservative evangelical Christians for turning down Hugh Hefner’s publication, he drew greater admiration – and controversy – when he appeared in an anti-abortion commercial during the Super Bowl.
In a $2.6 million spot paid for by Focus on the Family (FOTF), Tebow appeared with his mother, Pam, in a pro-life ad that directed viewers to the FOTF website to watch a video where she talks about how her life would have been at risk if she had gone through with the pregnancy with the future football star, and how she decided against having an abortion.
The ad caused pro-choice activists to complain about the insinuated message that women should go through with pregnancies when their life is at risk. Anger over CBS's decision to give air time to FOTF also riled up activist groups.
"By offering one of the most coveted advertising spots of the year to an anti-equality, anti-choice, homophobic organization, CBS is aligning itself with a political stance that will damage its reputation, alienate viewers, and discourage consumers from supporting its shows and advertisers," the Women’s Media Center said in a statement.
However, Tebow has felt strongly about his pro-life stance for a long time and stuck by his decision to appear in the ad. In a 2009 interview with Filipina magazine, Tebow elaborated on his pro-life views.
"My conception and birth were beautiful stories of life. They were not stories about choices. They were stories of my parents' selfless love of life and their unwavering faith in God who knows and sets the bounds and ends of our lives," he told the magazine.
It is that "unwavering faith in God" that has led Tebow to become one of the most popular players in the NFL, besides never having been a starter yet in the big leagues.
However, not being a starter has not stopped Tebow's popularity from soaring: His jersey is the third-highest selling in the league. Fans chant his name at home games even as he stands on the sidelines with a clipboard. And his supporters have spent thousands of dollars on billboards in Denver urging the Broncos coach to make Tebow the starter.
Although many football experts believe Tebow simply is not ready for prime time, fans have accused sports journalists of being biased against Tebow for wearing his Christian faith on his sleeve.
ESPN writer Rick Reilly gets emails from fans that say: "You only bash Tebow because he is a Christian and he does not fit into your pop-culture mold of great athletes."
Reilly, however, says that accusation is not only wrong, but ridiculous, when one considers the large amount of pro athletes who proudly exhibit their Christian faith.
"Whose god Tim Tebow worships has zero to do with my criticism of him. It's his business," he wrote. "Like I care. Tebow is about the 1,297th-most outwardly Christian athlete I've covered. He doesn't stick his god down my throat. Doesn't genuflect after touchdowns. Doesn't answer every question with, 'Well, first, let me thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and, yes, I think I did pull my groin in the third quarter.'
"And even if he did, it wouldn't affect what I write about him. I've covered openly devout athletes for 33 years. Lord knows I'm used to it,” Reilly added.
Whether or not religion has sullied his reputation, Tebow's fans finally have the evangelical quarterback as their starter. It is not rare for a star college athlete to have a lot of hype to live up to, but it is rare for him to have such a fervent following of religious supporters, too. Fans will not know how well he performs until he plays, but one thing is for sure: they are looking forward to it.
"Tebow's the man. He's bringing excitement to Denver like we haven’t seen in a few years," said Mohammad Suleiman, a Broncos fan, according to the Denver Post.