For weeks now, it seemed as if everyone—not just football fans—has been talking about Tim Tebow, the surprising young quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Remarkably, when the season started, Tebow was sitting on the bench and no one expected him to play much. More than a few skeptics thought his style was too unorthodox to develop into a star, even though he won the Heisman Trophy as the best college football player in the country just a few years ago.
Well, things change, don’t they? After the Broncos started off poorly, Tebow took the quarterback’s reins and led the team to a series of inspiring and improbable comeback victories, often in the last seconds of the game. Even after the team’s recent loss to the New England Patriots—one of the NFL’s premier teams—no one is likely to stop talking about Tebow anytime soon. And that’s not because of his football heroics, but also because of his now-iconic pose, dubbed “Tebowing”: dropping down on one knee and lowering his head in prayer during a game, especially after having completed a big play.
Tebowing has quickly become a national fad, where people kneel in prayer at some random place, then post photos of themselves on the Internet. Last week, in fact, two Riverhead High School football players were suspended for a day for leading a gathering of about 40 other students in a Tebowing event in the middle of the hallway. School officials said the students had created a potentially dangerous situation (suppose the fire alarm had gone off?) and besides, they were told not to.
OK, I’m all for respecting authority, being safe and considerate to others. But how can we miss the opportunity to use this incident as a teachable moment? I understand that schools must separate church and state, but the kids were emulating one of their heroes, acknowledging a higher power, in prayer and gratitude. If ever there was a time to have a courageous conversation this is it. Let’s simply open a dialogue and encourage questions: Why does Tebow pray before a game? What is the value of prayer? Why have people been doing it since the beginning of recorded time? Why would a champion athlete, who has everything, get on his knees and acknowledge that he is not the center of the universe?
Just a few weeks ago, we were focused on another football story at Penn State—the ignominious saga of a former coach accused of molesting young boys for years, while university officials appeared to take little action. And for many young people, the role models of the last decade often have been athletes and pop culture icons that often have been self-centered at their best, and downright disreputable at their worst. Now we have a role model who is a hero and we punish kids for emulating him? This is crazy-making!
So what’s the teachable moment here? First, it’s not about Tim Tebow’s particular Christian beliefs. Rather, it’s about the power of humility; that human beings, even the very best of us, will disappoint, precisely because we are human. But when we get on our knees and acknowledge our humanness, we learn what it means to ask for our thinking and our behavior to be guided by a power and principles greater than our limited, self-centered thinking can take us. When Tebow is on his knees asking for power, he is asking to be guided by the right motive—not making himself a hero, but making that power the hero, one greater than his humanness can muster by his self-will alone.
What is so extraordinary about this Tebowesque humility is that it remains long after his moments of achievement or disappointment. When asked about the Broncos’ loss to the Patriots, Tebow remained optimistic. “Every time there’s a setback, there’s an opportunity for a new step up,” he said. “He’s not afraid, no stranger to hard work,” added Broncos’ head coach John Fox. “He works as hard as any player I’ve ever coached.”
Tebow’s humility extends beyond the gridiron, where he works on causes such as the Tim Tebow Foundation’s “Wish 15” program, created to fulfill the dreams of children with life-threatening illnesses. On its web site, the foundation says it exists “to bring faith, hope and love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.”
I say, God bless him and the young people who have the courage to get on their knees and connect with a power greater than themselves.