I was never much of a fan of Tim Tebow. I don’t really like the Florida Gators. I always suspected his super nice, super religious demeanor was simply too good to be true (turns out I was dead wrong). While he was an amazing college athlete, he never had any success as a pro.
Tebow had a couple of rough NFL seasons as a quarterback (loosely termed) where almost everyone, and especially the media, mocked his abilities. Then, in an effort to live life on hard mode, he tried his hand at pro baseball (a sport he last played in high school), where he had a little success in the minor leagues but never dreamt of making the majors before retiring.
Then, this summer, Tebow (now 34) tried to make an NFL comeback as a tight end (was this a new position for him, and is TE totally different from playing QB? Yes and yes). To almost-universal ridicule and precisely to everyone’s expectations, he just got cut from the Jacksonville Jaguars roster, surely ending his NFL dreams.
So it may come as a bit of a shock for me to declare: Tim Tebow is one of my favorite professional athletes. You might say, ummm Paul, you just told us he was a complete failure in every attempt at pro sports. And I would say, “Exactly!”
Because we get to watch the struggles, the triumphs, and the failures of pro athletes on the world’s largest stage, they end up as role models to many. Many people chose the greatest athlete in a sport’s history as their role model – figures like Wayne Gretzky, Tom Brady, Pelé, and Secretariat. But I’ve never been that guy.
I have learned a lot more from failures than successes in my life. My failures have made me a tougher, stronger, better person. So while I deeply respect the DNA and endless training that goes into becoming Tom Brady or Secretariat, their outstanding athletic achievements don’t inspire me. It’s the people who fight and fail and persevere. It’s Tim Tebow.
Tebow is an almost Shakespearian figure, in that he achieved the highest level of success in college athletics – literally voted the best college football player as a sophomore – only to fail, and fail, and fail again, at the professional level. That alone must have been hugely humbling, but his path to humility was helped enormously by the constant ridicule and contempt of fans and media, who gladly mocked him every step of the way. I can only imagine the embarrassment and self-doubt he’s endured over the years.
Did all of the failure and ridicule break Tebow? Did it turn him into a bitter and vindictive person? I’ll let you judge for yourself:
When Tebow wanted to try his hand again at football, I knew how it was going to end. And I didn’t care. I sat up and started to truly love the guy. I loved that he was fighting, and I loved the passion he brought to the fight.
I have talked at length to my sons about the spirit with which they should face the world. I can find no better words than the timeless wisdom of Teddy Roosevelt. In his famous “Citizenship In a Republic” speech, he declared:
\”It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.\”
There is no better example of Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena than Tim Tebow. He is a noble and glorious concept brought to life.
And that is viewing Tim Tebow solely as an athlete. He may actually be one of the nicest people on the planet. His charitable efforts are nothing short of amazing. He probably prays for all of the haters, hoping that love can come into their hearts.
I can think of no greater curse than that someone never experiences failure. It is part of being human, and it is one of life’s greatest lessons. And I can think of no greater teacher in how to face a fight and yes, risk and see failure, than Tim Tebow. He may not be much of a pro athlete, but he’s one of the best role models in all of pro sports.
Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Beall