(Photo: REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)
Tim Tebow and his former coach Urban Meyer were reunited on Friday to share their thoughts on leadership at the live Chick-fil-A leadership event watched by 125,000 people across the United States.
CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien was on hand at the Chick-fil-A Leadercast 2012 in Atlanta, Ga., to interview both Tebow and his former University of Florida coach Urban Meyer. When O'Brien asked Tebow if he is a great leader, he gave a humble response.
"I don't know about that...I just know that I really care about what I do. I'm very passionate about it, I love what I do, and I'm willing to put it all on the line. And I think when you're willing to do those things...people can respect you for it," said Tebow.
He also said that everybody is a leader, to some extent, because everyone has the power to impact the lives of those around them – for better or for worse.
"What's so frustrating for me is you have all these athletes, celebrities and entertainers that say, 'I'm not a role model.' Yes you are, you're just not a very good one," Tebow said to an eruption of applause from the live audience at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.
Prior to the interview, Meyer, who is now the head football coach at The Ohio State University, shared the story of how he had previously sacrificed both his health and time with his family for the sake of winning football games. Although he wields a great deal of influence over young athletes, Meyer says it was Tebow who taught him a number of life lessons during their time together as Florida Gators.
"When I first met Tim, I didn't like Tim," said Meyer. "I admired him, but I didn't like him...Tim has a unique ability to force you to look inward, to evaluate yourself. Because everything you see Tim do, it's hard to believe."
Meyer says he was first impressed with Tebow's leadership abilities when he saw the quarterback playing baseball in high school. Tebow played in right field, and Meyer says he just "completely took over the game" in a way he had never seen before.
Tebow began the 2011 NFL season as a backup quarterback for the Denver Broncos. When he was finally called upon to be the starter, he made the most of the opportunity and was able to lead the team to a playoff victory after starting the season with just one win and four losses.
Now he is a backup once again, this time for the New York Jets, but he encouraged leaders to always be ready for the moment when their big opportunity comes along.
"When your number's called, you have to go in there and make the most of it," he said.
Tebow faced waves of criticism from the media during the 2011 NFL season, both for his outspoken faith and for his inconsistent play on the field. He tried to ignore it, however, and focused solely on what he could control.
"Don't worry about what you can't control," said Tebow. "There's a lot of things we can't control. We can't control what people write about us, what they say about us, but we can control a few things: our attitude, our effort, our focus and how we go about treating our teammates."
Meyer said watching his former players get criticized is like watching his own children get criticized. But both he and Tebow said that "faith and family" get them through hard times. Tebow also said it would be a "shallow life" to prioritize football above everything else.
Tebow emphasized several times during the event that his success in football gives him a platform from which he can help people. Before the first session of the event was over, the audience got to watch as he paid a surprise visit to a 16-year-old girl, a brain and spinal cancer patient, whose dream was to meet him.
Londa Churchill, who works for a ministry fundraising consulting agency called BBS & Associates, told The Christian Post she was inspired by Tebow's words.
"I'm a big fan of his, but just what he had to say about faith and character and being a leader each day...I just found it really inspiring," said Churchill, who watched the conference from Akron-Springfield Assembly of God church in Akron, Ohio, which served as a host site and projected a live video feed of the event onto a big screen.
In addition to Tebow and Meyer, other speakers at the event included O'Brien, megachurch pastor Andy Stanley, leadership expert John Maxwell and many more.