‘Tebowed’ over

The Denver quarterback openly speaks about his religion. Is there anything wrong with that?

American sports fans are being “Tebowed” and still can’t decide exactly how they should feel about it.

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow was already a “love ’em or hate ’em” character when he left the University of Florida in 2010 carrying with him two college football championships and a Heisman Trophy as the nation’s best player.

He was equally famous for openly (some say too openly) speaking about his Christian faith. When he put Bible citations in the “eye black” he smeared under his eyes before games it seemed to make his religion literally too “in your face” for some.

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Mr. Tebow sat on the Denver bench last season, largely because his playing style of run first, pass only if you must, seems out of step with the pass-happy National Football League (NFL). And Tebow mania slowly ebbed.

But this fall, when the Broncos struggled to a 1-4 start, desperate Broncos coach John Fox decided to give Tebow his chance. The result has been a run of four victories and only one defeat that has brought Denver back into playoff contention. The streak was capped by a nationally telecast win over the New York Jets Thursday night in which Tebow led his team nearly the entire length of the field to seal a last-minute victory.

Now the Tebow fame train is highballing again.

Tebowing, in which people send in photos of themselves imitating Tebow’s practice of kneeling in prayer after a touchdown, has its own website (Tebowing.com). At least one opposing player has Tebowed on the field, which was seen as an effort to mock the Denver quarterback. And before the Thursday night game a sailor struck his best Tebowing pose in a photo op with the quarterback, who stood by grinning.

Tebow doesn’t seem to be upset about the Tebowing phenomenon. “Yeah, some people don’t necessarily take it seriously, but they’re on their knee praying, so who knows what you’re going to think about after that and how that can affect you?” Tebow says. “Hopefully, it’s a good example for people.”

In fact, Tebow hasn’t lashed back at his critics at all. And although he did appear in an anti-abortion Super Bowl commercial with his mother, he doesn’t express any partisan political views publicly. Instead, outside football he concentrates on his Tim Tebow Foundation, whose latest project is building a hospital in the Philippines, where Tebow was born to a Christian missionary couple from the United States.

Christian athletes abound in the NFL, as they do in other professional sports. Quarterback Kurt Warner, who led the St. Louis Rams to victory in the 2000 Super Bowl, is just one high-profile example.

What seems to be different this time is Tebow’s unprecedented devotion to sharing his beliefs in public.

His public religiosity may not be the way others choose to practice their deeply held convictions. But it isn’t an excuse to single him out for ridicule either.

“At the end of the day,” Tebow said this week, “people will forget the touchdowns or championships or whatever it is you accomplished on the field. But what matters is how you treat people and how you handle yourself.”

Isn’t that the kind of thing we want to hear from our athletic heroes?

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