If you’re a sports fan – and even if you’re not! – you’ve probably heard of football quarterback Tim Tebow. He is one of the biggest names in football these days. “Tebowmania” swept the country after Tebow led the Denver Broncos on five fourth-quarter comebacks and four overtime victories in this season’s NFL playoffs. Tebow’s game-winning overtime pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 8 became the most-tweeted moment in sports history. Tebow even spawned a new verb, “Tebowing” – the practice of genuflecting on one knee, elbow perched on the other, fist to forehead in prayerful reflection – and everyone from schoolchildren to professional skier Lindsey Vonn were soon doing it.
Besides being America’s favorite Christian pro athlete, Tebow is a homeschool graduate. Tim grew up in a close but competitive family and athletics were always a big part of his life. At five years old, he was begging to play organized sports. Like his other siblings, he was homeschooled until college. Fortunately for him, his family lived in the state of Florida where homeschooled students are allowed to play interscholastic sports at public schools in their communities. So while he did not attend public school classes, he played on the Nease High School football team which won the 2005 State Championship.
In his freshman year at college, Tim joined the Florida Gators as the starting quarterback, and his team won the 2006 National Championship. In 2007 he received the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s best quarterback, the James E. Sullivan Award as the most outstanding amateur athlete in any sport, and he was the first underclassman ever to be awarded the Heisman Trophy for most outstanding player in collegiate football. Tim earned the Maxwell Award as the nation’s top football player twice – in 2007 and 2008. Tebow also led the Gators to win a 2008 national title. On January 11, 2009, Tebow announced that he would return for his senior season at the University of Florida rather than making himself eligible for the NFL draft. In the 2010 Sugar Bowl, Tebow’s last college game, he had 533 yards of total offense – a record for a Bowl Championship Series game – and accounted for four touchdowns in a 51-24 Florida win against Cincinnati. Tebow was drafted by the Broncos in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
There have been countless stories about Tebow’s popularity on the field and his generosity off the field, but Tim remains humble in spite of all the national attention he has received. Tim credits the Lord, his family, his coaches, and his teammates for his successful accomplishments. Although football is important to him, Tim’s faith is the driving force in his life. Tim says that he often chats with a Florida-based pastor “to continually stay humble when it’s going good and to stay confident when it’s going bad.” Just like in the Sherwood Pictures movie “Facing the Giants,” Tim’s main goal is to give glory to God. His sideline prayer: “No matter what happens, win or lose, give me the strength to honor You.”
Timothy Tebow was born on August 14, 1987 in Manila, Philippines, where his parents were Christian missionaries. While pregnant with him, his mother suffered a life-threatening infection compounded by a severe placental abruption. Expecting a stillbirth, doctors recommended that she have an abortion to save her own life. She refused, and through the miracle of prayer, both mother and baby survived. “It was … really a great beginning because you know when something is hard to come by, you value it so much,” said Pam Tebow, adding, “all of our children value Timmy because they’d all had a part in praying for him.” Tim has two older brothers and two older sisters.
When Tim was three years old the Tebow family moved back to Florida, the home base for his father’s year ministry, The Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association. While being homeschooled on a 44-acre farm outside Jacksonville, all of the Tebow children regularly went to the Philippines on mission trips. Tebow worked at the orphanage there since he was 15. Each summer, Tim returned to lead evangelistic crusades and minister to the children. On one of Tim’s mission trips, the highlight for him was preaching to 10,000 high school students in Digos, Mindanao. At home in Florida, he regularly visited schools, hospitals, and even spoke at a prison.
In a one-hour ESPN documentary about Tebow that originally aired on 12/14/2005, Tim is seen studying the Bible as part of his homeschool curriculum and devotional reading. The football team is shown praying before and after practice. After almost a year filming Tim’s senior season in different settings, ESPN producer Ken Murrah said, “I made the decision that it must be heavily based on their faith and beliefs.” Murrah explained, “I knew he was a good football player in his strength, size and unique skills, but I was amazed at his natural ability and maturity to speak publicly, go into schools, be comfortable in being a role model and talk so openly about his faith.”
Tim’s parents, Pam and Bob Tebow, have been called “homeschool pioneers” because they began homeschooling in 1982 before this form of education became popular. Teaching their children to honor God was the main reason for their decision to homeschool. “If I could get my kids to the age of 25 and they know God and serve God and had character qualities that pleased God, then I knew God would be happy and I would be happy,” explained Bob Tebow. “The only way I could do that was to do it myself, commit to God that this is my job,” the senior Tebow continued. “Traditional academics had to take a back seat to God’s Word and character building.” Although family values and character training were their first priority, the Tebows also focused on each child’s individual learning styles, interests, and goals. All five of the Tebow children went on to receive college scholarships.
Tebow has said that he wants to use his standing as an NFL player to make the world a better place. For starters, the tough but tenderhearted guy appeared with his mother in a pro-life Focus on the Family spot that aired during Super Bowl XLIV in February 2010. Tim is acutely aware that “To whom much is given, much is required.” Tebow keeps a poem on his bulletin board that reminds him of an athlete’s accountability to be a role model for the boys who want to be just like him. He enjoys greeting young fans at his games, he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t hang out in nightclubs, and he says that he is always careful about not “leading girls on.” He’s a down-to-earth steak-and-potatoes guy who would rather splurge on brownies and ice cream while spending a quiet evening at home with his siblings and close friends.
The Tim Tebow Foundation, established in January 2010, utilizes the public platform that God has blessed Tebow with, to inspire and make a difference in people’s lives throughout the world by helping to support global charities. The Tim Tebow Foundation is currently partnering with CURE to build a children’s hospital in the Philippines, which is expected to break ground in March 2012 and open in mid-2013. The Tim Tebow Foundation also partners with Dreams Come True on the “Wish15” program, which grants wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses. Like his faith, charity is a central part of Tebow’s character and not just an activity incidental to his football career.
NFL coach Tony Dungy said, “His leadership and Christian values set an example not just for his teammates, but for all young people. Tim has already demonstrated that he is a young man of uncommon ability, determination and, most of all, character. This foundation is just further evidence of his belief that what he does off the field is just as important as what he does on it. I look forward to watching Tim and this foundation to continue to show us all how we each can have a tremendously positive impact on others.” By the way, Tebow himself pays the foundation staff and administrative costs so that all donations can go to outreach efforts. Similarly, when Broncos coach John Fox invited a not-yet-drafted Tim Tebow to dinner, Tebow did something that Fox said no other player had ever done – he paid for the bill.
Tim Tebow is a breath of fresh air. He is a humble and courageous athlete who is not afraid to show his faith, even as a public figure. After all, Christians are not supposed to hide their light under a bushel (Matt. 5:14-16) but are told to go out into the world and share the gospel. Some have ridiculed and insulted Tebow ever since he was a college quarterback, mostly because he’s a Christian and proud to admit it. His critics can scorn him but he remains unfazed – and in fact his popularity rises. Tebow’s autobiography, Through My Eyes, was the best-selling sports book of 2011. Tebow has endorsement deals with Nike, Jockey, and FRS energy drinks. Thanks to his fame and media attention as a world-class athlete, millions of people have heard the message of John 3:16. Timothy is a name that means “honoring God,” and Tim Tebow is doing exactly that.