Tim Tebow, the philanthropist

How is Tim Tebow using his fame as starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos? Impressively.

(AP Photo/Derek Gee)
Denver Broncos Tim Tebow meets with Jacob Rainey prior to the start of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y., in December.

Forget Tim Tebow, the star athlete and starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos.

Forget his on-field genuflections, the Bible quotes, and the fourth-quarter "miracles."

Let's look at Tim Tebow, the philanthropist.

For all the controversy around his public prayers or his readiness to lead an NFL team to a Super Bowl, few can fault Tim Tebow's acts of kindness.

Just before each football game, when most pro-athletes put on their "game face" and ignore teammates and family members, the Denver Broncos quarterback makes it a point to visit with a struggling fan.

Minutes before the start of last Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tebow took time to chat  with 16-year-old Bailey Knaub, a girl who has had 73 surgeries. In Buffalo, on Dec. 24,  Jacob Rainey, a young football player who had lost his leg, was the beneficiary of Tebow's pre- and post-game attention. This Saturday, Tebow will meet with 20-year old Zack McLeod on the sidelines as part of The Tebow Foundation's Wish 15 program that grants requests for young people with serious medical issues.

Aren't such charitable activities a distraction from his chosen profession, asked ESPN columnist Rick Reilly.

"Just the opposite," Tebow said. "It's by far the best thing I do to get myself ready. Here you are, about to play a game that the world says is the most important thing in the world. Win and they praise you. Lose and they crush you. And here I have a chance to talk to the coolest, most courageous people. It puts it all into perspective. The game doesn't really matter. I mean, I'll give 100 percent of my heart to win it, but in the end, the thing I most want to do is not win championships or make a lot of money, it's to invest in people's lives, to make a difference."

Tebow doesn't just shower attention on these "coolest, most courageous people." He flies them and their family to the game, pays for their hotel and meals, gets them pre-game passes and visits with them after the game, often walking to the car with them.

Veteran sports writers, often a cynical bunch and not easily won over, are impressed by Tebow, the philanthropist.

"I'm a 100 percent believer," writes ESPN's Rick Reilly. "Not in his arm. Not in his skills. I believe in his heart, his there-will-definitely-be-a-pony-under-the-tree optimism, the way his love pours into people, right up to their eyeballs, until they believe they can master the hopeless comeback, too."

Raised by Christian missionaries, Tebow has for years now said that football is simply "a platform" for bigger things. He may be referring to preaching Christianity, but his actions suggest otherwise.

He told NFL Today co-host James Brown:  "My Mom and Dad preached to me when I was a little kid that just because you may have athletic ability and may be able to play a sport doesn't make you any more special than anybody else, doesn't mean God loves you more than anybody else ... at the end of the day, it's [football] a game."

Tebow's NFL fame is giving a big boost to his foundation - with donations doubling since he took the helm of the Broncos.  The Tim Tebow Foundation expects to meet the fund-raising goal of $2.5 million in March, ahead of its June fiscal-year end target. 

For $25, donors get a Team Tebow T-shirt, car decal and information on where to volunteer at a foundation community function. "Before the [Pittsburgh Steelers playoff] game, we had done 100 people," foundation president Erik Dellenback told the Huffington Post. "In 48 hours after the game, we had over 4,000 members."

Dellenback also said that Tebow pays all of the foundation staff and administrative costs, so that all donations go to the outreach efforts.

Many athletes and celebrities contribute their time and money to charitable causes. Tim Tebow is not unique in that sense. His charitable foundation is by no means the biggest or most influential. But what impresses is the authentic priority Tebow places on this work. Charity appears to be central to his character and his life, not an "extra" or an activity incidental to his football career.

And that is worthy of attention.

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