Until yesterday, I liked Chris Leak more than I liked Tim Tebow.
Leak was quiet under fire, survived stretches of uneven play and ugly reaction from Gator Nation, ultimately won a title, and generally had a little bit more pathos to his story. Because I’m sentimental to the point of stupidity, that meant more to me than God’s gift to the Gators roaring through his life and career like a hurricane that displayed a strangely human humility.
But, today, Tim Tebow did something simple and wondrous in giving an honest answer to a tough question with grace.
Travis: Tim, you’ve worn your religion on your sleeve, the mission trips, everything else, I think that’s amazing, very popular in the South and all over the country, to people even though you’re beating the crap out of their teams on the field, I know personally, and a lot of people do. (Tebow laughs.) Are you saving yourself for marriage?
Tebow: (Laughs) Good question. (Room laughs) But, yes, I love throwing versus One High, Speed Post—um, no. Yes, I am.
Other reporter: Tim, being a senior, uh, what would you say— (Room cracks up.)
Tebow: I think y’all are stunned right now. Y’all can’t even ask a question! Look at this! The first time ever! Wow.
Travis: Well, I knew you were perfect, I just couldn’t—
Tebow: I mean, I was ready for the question; I don’t think y’all were, though. (Tebow laughs)
Unknown: How do you follow that?
The question itself is going to be debated (SI‘s Stewart Mandel: “a new low”; ESPN’s Chris Low wrote similar things), but Travis had written about it prior to today. And Tebow saying he was prepared probably means more than him personally bracing for the question, so I don’t think he was ambushed.
Further, to me, that’s a potentially dodgy question wrapped in an understanding of his place in society and his faith. Travis asked it, to my ear, not because he wanted to catch Tebow, but because, as he writes, he thought Tebow would say yes.
And he did.
For a public figure to answer that question, and with charm and wit—Tebow ribbing the press for their stunned silence is brilliant—is refreshing. Tebow could have deflected it. He didn’t. That candor is laudable.
But a great many things are laudable about Tebow: His walk matching his talk from prisons to orphanages, his tremendous work ethic, his masterful showmanship as the figurehead of the Florida Gators, and his full use of his time in college to enjoy his town and earn a degree.
These things can be knocked, too: He’s a proselytizer, a robot, a hot dog, and a fool for passing up a year of NFL riches.
The one thing I respect above all else with Tim Tebow, though, is how he respects God above all else. I am not a religious person. I don’t fully agree with religion. But I am impressed with how wholly Tebow has thrown himself into his life and his work.
It’s easy to skirt the issue of religion in athletics, even as a devout athlete, because outspoken faith is a one of the rough edges potential endorsers distrust, but Tebow has made his faith his calling, using his talents and efforts on the field to draw attention to a cause he supports relentlessly.
Whatever I or anyone else might think of his decision to save himself, it’s hard to criticize a decision he has probably made for himself and his faith.
And, as a human being and UF student, it’s hard not to be proud of a fellow Gator who is unabashedly himself and making the most of his life.
In 2005, when USC and Texas readied for their “Game of the Century,” ESPN ran stirring montages of Trojans and Longhorns to Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.” It’s about balance, poise, diligence, humility, kindness and patience. It’s about what makes a man.
The poem closes with these words:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!
Has anyone in recent memory done that better than Tim Tebow?
It’s great to be a Florida Gator on a daily basis. Having a guy I can count as genuine inspiration and as a fellow student around for some of my years in Gainesville just makes it a little greater, and makes me absurdly lucky.
Thanks, Tim. Win ‘em all this fall.