Should All Athletes Aspire to Be Tim Tebow?

A few days ago I read a heartwarming article about the much-maligned Denver Broncos quarterback, Tim Tebow. Tebow was coming off a huge upset win over the Steelers despite a subpar season in which he completed fewer than 50% of his passes.

The part that really got to me was this quote from Tebow:

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.

That makes me want to root for this guy. It’s hard not to root for him when you find out that he’s doing these types of things before the game:

Every week, Tebow picks out someone who is suffering, or who is dying, or who is injured. He flies these people and their families to the Broncos game, rents them a car, puts them up in a nice hotel, buys them dinner (usually at a Dave & Buster’s), gets them and their families pregame passes, visits with them just before kickoff (!), gets them 30-yard-line tickets down low, visits with them after the game (sometimes for an hour), has them walk him to his car, and sends them off with a basket of gifts.

After I posted the link on Facebook, a friend contacted me with her thoughts about Tebow and other professional athletes. I thought the way she described the delicate balance with which she respects Tebow and yet does not like the way the media (and his fans) puts him on a pedestal was beautifully written, so I asked if I could publish her e-mail below. Here are Neha’s thoughts:

As is generally recognized, Tebow is not a particularly skillful QB. That’s not to say he lacks talent, or that he doesn’t display potential to become great, but if you compare him to other QB’s, his athletic talent doesn’t account for the immense amount of attention he is receiving. The attention is derived from his public display of faith, which is polarizing.

Personally, I don’t agree with the detractors who criticize him for displaying his faith. He’s religious, and that faith doesn’t leave him when he goes to work–ok by me. What bothers me are some of his supporters (and Fox News), who use his personal expressions of faith to their own end–as support for the idea that our country unjustly persecutes people who want to display their Christian faith.

For one thing, that argument is just not true. For another, it’s hypocritical where many (not all) of the people in that camp are conservatives who either support, or are not offended by, actual religious persecution (i.e., where are all the supportive tweets when schools try to ban Muslim girls from wearing a hijab?)

Back to the original point–Tebow’s fame is coming not from athletic talent, but from the fact that he exhibits the traits of a good man. Traits like those found in that ESPN article you tweeted. He’s generous with his time and money, he’s modest, he’s loyal to his convictions. I think that’s great. But does that make me a “fan?” No, because I don’t think he should be given more credit than those who also exhibit those qualities, but at greater personal sacrifice, just because he’s a famous athlete.

In fact, I expect athletes in his position to do the things described in that ESPN article. I think our society has suffered because in the last few decades, our expectations of our fellow Americans has just deteriorated. I don’t get all these articles praising Tebow for being a great role model in a world of Michael Vicks. Why are we comparing down?

Just because there are irresponsible celebrities, do responsible ones get extra credit? Shouldn’t it simply be that Tebow is behaving in exactly the manner we should expect of someone in his position? And when you praise someone for doing something they should be doing anyway, aren’t you kind of reinforcing the notion that the behavior is special? And when something is “special” how can it become the norm?

Tebow is generous with his time and money, yes. I know so many wonderful people who don’t have nearly as much free time or money as Tebow who do exactly the things for which he is garnering accolades. And these people do their good work, at much greater personal sacrifice, even though they will never receive public adoration or attention. And quite frankly, when they do receive notice, like on a 10 o’clock news puff piece, the public doesn’t seem to care nearly as much as they do when the do-gooder is a celebrity. Knowing that these people exist, I EXPECT celebrities who are in positions of privilege, to do good things–they don’t get extra credit for it.

Here’s why: I want celebrities to be fully aware of the fact that for the most part, they don’t deserve the money they make, they haven’t earned it, at least not by my standards. Our society has decided that actors and athletes are valued at millions of dollars. This is true, even though those jobs, relative to many others, are quite enjoyable and dare I say, easier than many others. Athletes love playing their sport, I think it would be sufficient if their compensation was that they get to do what they love for a living, have fame and adoration, a voice that can make a difference, and a reasonable salary.

Instead, Tebow will make millions, and ye teachers, public defenders, social workers, police officers etc., struggle to make a living wage and support a family. I expect athletes to recognize that they are lucky, that there is a discrepancy in their pay, that they don’t deserve to make as much money as they do. And that recognition should manifest itself in them being good people, generous people.

So in sum, I’m not a “fan” of Tebow because he doesn’t have the skills yet for me to admire him as an athlete. And I can’t be a fan of him based on his good heart anymore than I’m a fan of anyone who is privileged and recognizes that and acts accordingly. I do respect him, and think he’s a good man, I just don’t think he should get so much attention for it. Otherwise, instead of being the norm, he will remain the exception.

This is Jamey again. What do you think? How do you feel about Tebow and the way the media treats him? Should all athletes be held to a high standard of generosity?


24 Responses to “Should All Athletes Aspire to Be Tim Tebow?”

  1. Your friend makes excellent points. However, I’d like to add food for thought: though it’s a travesty that teachers barely make a living while top ball players make millions, football players are at risk of serious, even life-threatening injuries on a regular basis in a mentally demanding, physically punishing job. They love it, but it’s hard work, and most don’t make Tebow’s salary. Most will run a gauntlet that never launches them to fame, but sends them into obscurity at a young age without a clear path to retirement. Star athletes do make money out of proportion to other valuable professions, and so do ball club owners. Here’s a problem: if players don’t demand big salaries, that’s just more money in the pockets of everyone else at an overfed table. I believe that the problem isn’t so much players making hay while the sun shines, so much as our society’s priorities being driven by media and commercialism, which is why there’s so much more money at the celebrity table than the teacher table.

    About Tebow’s charitable behavior: I agree that from those who have been given much, much should be expected. But I’m not sure that if the media avoids highlighting the good deeds of big shots, it will yield the result of encouraging people to consider such behavior the norm. Publicly rewarding positive behavior can help show youth who the best role models are. Wouldn’t we rather see more good guys rewarded, instead of bad boys getting all the press?

    • Jasmin says:

      Oh, yeah. I’m totally done with seeing Lindsey Lohan with her drug/legal issues, Jersey Shore’s cast as celebrities, and people who are doing stupid things to get some spotlight. But media is business and people like to know the dirt on people, especially on the Hollywood stars and the athletes. I remember news, like Fox 2, used to have a tiny segment on the local hero of the week or something like that. It was to feature the person who done something for their community. I thought it was a very nice segment since I hear is about crimes and all the not so happy things around the community. However, the segment was really way too short and I believe that part was written out eventually. I think we need more media attention on people like Tebow.

      Now, not all athletes and everybody else should be aspire to be Tebow, but do be aspire to do a good deed once a while, as often as they want, or whenever as long as they don’t expect something in return. Because that’s what a good deed is. It’s a sacrifice of time and/or money. I don’t think the guy was asking for a spotlight when he was doing all that stuff. I know nothing about him and didn’t get what’s the big idea about this guy until until I read about him here and that article. It seems like he really is a genuinely good guy. Kudos to him. I’m sure he’ll be doing what he’s been doing even after all this media is over. People should be aspire to do what feels right, not for a 15 minutes of fame.

      • Jamey Stegmaier says:

        Jasmin–I totally agree that we need more segments about people (both regular people and celebrities) doing good in the world.

        I like the concept you describe about people doing what feels right (instead of doing good for the sake of attention). I think that’s the purest kind of good. Although, as someone says below, and what Neha alludes to, is that you can still do good things even if you’re doing them for attention. The kid with cancer feels good to go to a football game regardless of whether or not Tebow is doing it for the media coverage.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Cara–Thanks for your thoughts. I think you have a good point that athletes make huge sacrifices to entertain us.

      Also, that’s a great point about the press focusing on the good that athletes do instead of the bad (regardless of the athletes’ motivations for doing good). I think there’s a difference between idolizing someone and sharing the good news, so that’s a fine line the media must walk.

  2. Emma says:

    Something to consider in addition to the well-articulated points above:

    While I am not contending that the charitable actions of this particular athlete are not genuine, aren’t most celebrities at the mercy of their publicists and agents, begging them to do something newsworthy? Doesn’t the media attention he gets bring something to the franchise that his physical talent does not? Won’t be get re-signed for being a public figure/hero/good guy that will bring in fans/money/recognition to the team?

    I’m NOT saying he’s doing any of those actions for fame/attention, but I am saying that our society/media/celebrity culture DOES encourage charitable acts as publicity and as a way to distract from scandal, or add to reputation. And that, to me, reinforces the point that such generosity is not an exception, but a rule. Celebrities make a huge impact on the nonprofit sector, and quite frankly, I don’t care if it’s always genuine or not. But it’s certainly not worth noting anymore (in my opinion), nor is it special behavior that warrants attention. As was said above, it should be the norm. I think it already is.

    Do I get a bonus for using that many slashes?

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Emma–Three bonus points for so many slashes!

      That’s a fair point that celebrities are at the mercy of their publicists. I don’t necessarily think that’s a good excuse, but sure, when you’re a public figure, you might need an expert to manage the public’s perception of you.

  3. Mena says:

    Long response, but you asked for it by mentioning Tebow.

    I’ve followed Tim Tebow’s career since he was playing at Nease while being recruited by Florida. I’m definitely a fan. I think he is a GREAT football player who makes everyone around him better. He was a do-gooder long before he got all this publicity for it. That’s just how he was raised. So if you think that he is doing all of this just to get media coverage and recognition, think again. There are a lot of people out there who dislike him and I’m pretty sure that that is almost entirely ESPN’s fault. I think they are in talks to start ESPN-TT which basically airs Tim Tebow coverage 24/7. It seems that way at least.

    Anyway, as to your questions, I don’t think all athletes should necessarily aspire to be like Tim Tebow. The fact is that they would just be setting themselves up for failure. Tebow is genuinely driven to do all that charity work; you can’t fake that. I don’t mean to say that they shouldn’t try to be better people. I think it would be great if other athletes were inspired by Tebow to find their own “do-gooder passion” and do something about it. I just think he sets a very high standard that would be difficult to meet.

    Also, it is silly to think that he doesn’t deserve recognition because he is just doing what is expected of him. First, he is doing way more than that which is expected of him. People who are celebrities (whether athletes, actors, musicians, etc) shouldn’t be expected to be charitable just because they are rich and famous. They are just regular people who happen to work in a field in which they get paid a lot of money. No one has this expectation of people in the business world who make just as ridiculous a paycheck, but get less media coverage. Second, this statement, “I want celebrities to be fully aware of the fact that for the most part, they don’t deserve the money they make, they haven’t earned it, at least not by my standards” alone can be the foundation for an entire blog post/discussion. If you (or your friend) don’t think that acting and athletics are jobs that should involve so much money, that is fine, but athletes in particular aren’t just _given_ a fat paycheck; they have to work for it and in so doing, they deserve it and have earned it. Third, if your friend “EXPECT[s] celebrities who are in positions of privilege, to do good things,” she must constantly be disappointed because you rarely hear about every little good thing a celebrity (especially an athlete) does. Instead, we are well informed about Roethlisberger’s alleged rapes, Vick’s dog-fighting ring, Kobe’s infidelity/potential rape, others’ multiple shootings, etc. It is more logical, considering that kind of media attention, to EXPECT athletes to do a lot of terrible things. I would love to hear more about the good guys (https://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/multimedia/photo_gallery/1110/nfl.poll.nicest.player/content.1.html).

    As to Emma’s point, no, athletes don’t get re-signed for being charitable. They get re-signed for winning games and producing on the field. Being charitable isn’t factored in and in some cases can be viewed as a negative because it is a “distraction.”

    So much to say. I agree with Cara and Jasmin. Your friend’s opinion seems to be more of a reaction to the disproportionate wages in athletics vs public service jobs than about Tebow in particular. I hope that Tebow’s fame and media coverage inspires other athletes to do good and maybe that can result in “special” becoming the norm.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Mena–Thanks for the comment. It seems that there is a stark division between people who think Tebow does good things to help his image and people who think Tebow does good things because he believes in doing good things. Especially after reading the ESPN article, I’m inclined to believe that latter.

      I would argue the “great football player” part, but there is an intangible value to making those around you better. But you can also definitely help your team by hitting open receivers consistently. 🙂

      That’s a really interesting point about other athletes and how they maybe shouldn’t aspire to Tebow-levels of generosity because it won’t be genuine. I’m inclined to go with Emma’s theory that being genuine doesn’t matter as long as you’re doing good, but obviously I’d prefer for athletes and celebrities (and all people) to be passionate and genuine when it comes to doing good things.

      I think part of Neha’s point is that athletes are rich because of physical gifts that they didn’t choose (their only choice was to hone those gifts, which certainly shouldn’t be overlooked) and because we are willing to spend lots of money so they’ll entertain us with those physical gifts.

  4. T-Mac says:

    My thoughts are more aligned to most of the commenters than to Neha’s original points. I’ll agree that people toiling in careers outside the public spotlight (teachers, firefighters, social services) aren’t paid proportionally to their positive impact on society when compared with athletes, actors, and other “famous” people.

    I will say, though, that I don’t believe all athletes should aspire to be Tim Tebow. I also disagree that the press Tim Tebow receives is largely due to his public display of religion. Rather, I believe Tebow’s public display of religion supplements press he was already receiving as an athelete. The press wheel started spinning when a QB with an immense skill set that did not match the skills traditionally associated with a QB began to produce tremendous success on the national stage during college, and it carried over to the NFL.

    My largest point of contention, however, is the notion that we should expect Tim Tebow and other atheletes to live a certain exemplary lifestyle because he makes X amount of dollars. This sounds ridiculous to me. Tim Tebow doesn’t owe me or the world anything, nor does a school teacher, hot dog vendor, or truck driver. I’m happy that the world has good-hearted people in it, and I do believe that recognizing examples of goodness increases others potential for goodness, but I just don’t think we can place an implied moral imperative on a person’s actions unless we’ve dictated specific actions by law. Furthermore, where do we draw the line between those who are expected to give much back to society and those who aren’t? Seven figures? Six? Should we consider anyone who has enough to subsist to have been given much and thereby to be expected to repay much to society?

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Trev–Very well said. Somehow I’m finding myself agreeing with you (that Tim Tebow doesn’t owe the world anything) and Neha (that Tim Tebow owes the world something) at the same time.

      I think where I’m caught in the middle is that as I was reading the Tebow article, I thought, “Wow, this is really awesome…I wish more athletes were like this guy.” And then I realized that other athletes might be just as generous and genuine as Tebow, but they don’t get the press Tebow does. Which isn’t Tebow’s fault at all. That’s on the press. And the press is doing that because people would rather read about Tebow than some random second-string middle linebacker. And honestly, when I go to ESPN, I want sports news, not human interest stories.

      So, in conclusion, I blame myself.

    • Neha says:

      Jamey and I actually had a similar follow-up discussion- do I think all rich people owe us, no. I do feel we seem to care more when an actor is generous than an average Joe, which is odd to me because the actor has the money to spare, and Joe doesn’t…so shouldn’t we be more impressed with Joe and expect it from the unfairly paid actor?

      But I don’t think Bill Gates or Steve Jobs (who didn’t really do philanthropy) owe us anything- they earned their wealth and they can see fit to spend it as they please. When they choose to be generous, it just shows what good people they are- icing on the cake. I differentiate them from celebrities, based on that notion of deserving the money you make. Gates does, he literally changed the world. The person who finds the cure for cancer will be a trillionaire and I won’t fault him/her for using all the money to build a mansion made of peppermint sticks. I’m aware how subjective this is- picking and choosing who deserves their wealth and who doesn’t 🙂

      • Jamey Stegmaier says:

        Neha–I’d like to focus on the crux of your argument here, the mansion made of peppermint sticks. It displays a huge hole in your otherwise extensive thoughts and research. Clearly a house could not be made of peppermint sticks. Sure, it would smell amazing all the time, but the walls would be covered in hapless insects within days. It couldn’t be located anywhere that the temperature rises above 40 degrees, because the sticks would melt. But in more northern areas, the sticks wouldn’t provide the insulation necessary to keep a person warm and comfortable in their own home.

        Not to mention that the tensile strength of peppermint sticks isn’t nearly enough to provide even a rudimentary foundation for the house.

        Your argument for Tebow and athletes/celebrities was extremely sound until you decided to hinge the whole thing on a peppermint mansion. Close, but not quite.

  5. Emma says:

    Such a good topic Jamey!

    I wanted to clarify that I am NOT insinuating that anyone celebrity’s efforts are not genuine. Nor do I believe that celebrities owe anyone charity or the practice being better role models.

    I do not expect more from them because they are celebrities, I simply believe that the world of PR has made it a standard, and it’s not as noteworthy anymore because it’s a common practice.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Emma–That’s kind of sad, isn’t it? That charitable work by celebrities isn’t as noteworthy anymore because it’s so common. Although I guess Neha’s point is that it shouldn’t be noteworthy since celebrities doing good is no different than regular people doing good, and regular people get far less press than celebrities.

      Actually, this made me think of a blog I’ve started subscribing to about regular people doing good things for other people (and animals): https://www.scoop.it/t/hope/

  6. Emma says:

    Such a good topic Jamey!

    I wanted to clarify that I am NOT insinuating that anyone celebrity’s efforts are not genuine. Nor do I believe that celebrities owe anyone charity or the practice of being better role models.

    I do not expect more from them because they are celebrities, I simply believe that the world of PR has made it a standard, and it’s not as noteworthy anymore because it’s a common practice.

  7. Anne Riley says:

    I’m gonna leave a short response because people have already said everything so well! I think he’s trying to live up to his words, and that’s to be commended. He’s trying to “walk the walk” as they say. And sometimes, people / media turn against him for it. So yeah, I think he’s to be admired.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Thanks Anne! That’s well said, that it’s clear that Tebow has a mission, and he’s finding a way to complete that mission. I admire that.

  8. @JMJKDulce says:

    I love this post, I love that e-mail and I think both writers have great minds. I am in total agreement with Neha.

  9. Katie says:

    I would totally aspire to be like Tim Tebow if it meant that someone would rework a cheesy 80’s song to honor me:

    https://entertainment.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/01/11/10113829-tim-tebows-fire-80s-song-reworked-for-qb

    However, since I’m not quite up to the caliber of professional athletes, I may have to settle for a song that celebrates the sacrifices I make in my hum-drum, middle-class life.

    I’m thinking “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham, only it would be called “Katie’s Up Before You Go-Go” to honor how early I get out of bed to get to work every morning.

    Take that, Tebow.

    • Hahaha… when I heard “Tim Tebow’s Fire” the other day, I couldn’t stop laughing. Your theme song sounds much better. Hmmm, I kind of like the idea of having my own theme song…

  10. Neha says:

    I know I am totally using up my blog comments quota for the year here, from now on I only get to do the surveys. The point Cara makes about the physical toll on football players is a good one. And I do think they should be compensated accordingly, but some of these contracts go well beyond fair compensation (consider that worker’s compensation claims for injuries such as the ones players suffer generally result in a fraction of what the minimum an NFL player can make- around 375k/yr, excluding endorsements/bonuses). But as Cara says- “if players don’t demand big salaries, that’s just more money in the pockets of everyone else at an overfed table.” That there is an inequality in pay for celebrities is one of those “it is what it is” issues. We’re just going to have to live in a world where Kristen Stewart is paid 30 million a year. Disproportionate pay really isn’t my issue, I don’t know how it can be fixed, or even if it can be fixed.

    And while some celebrities may be charitable for publicity, I don’t think Tebow is one of them. I think he genuinely wants to use his success to help others. And as Emma said, either way, even if a celeb just donates for the camera, their motive really is inconsequential, as long as people are being helped.

    My thoughts stemmed more from our (the public’s) reaction to these stories. Because it’s our reaction that drives the media (they print what we like), so I guess it’s the “what we like” that surprises me. I agree that we should like, and thus the media should show, the good deeds of celebrities. For example, I liked reading about how Kate Winslet risked her life to save Richard Branson’s mother from a fire- that’s good stuff. Also the articles about Ryan Gosling breaking up a street fight (didn’t mind the accompanying photos either). But it’s our reactions to other behaviors that surprises me sometimes. Behaviors like celebs donating money and/or being good to their fans. I just really do expect celebrities to do these things (because of the aforementioned bloated salary), so I’m just surprised by how much credit the public gives them.

    And that’s kind of what I was driving at when I said I think our expectations are lower than they should be. I was with a friend, her 5 year old son Ben, and Ben’s grandfather Bill at the mall awhile ago. This man walking ahead of us dropped a bill (can’t remember how much) on the ground; none of us, other than Bill saw this happen. Bill picked up the money and hustled over to the man to return it and this man was so darn grateful to Bill, just gushing, and even offered to give him a Starbucks gift card he had as a reward. Bill refused and rushed to leave. Ben looks in awe at Bill and asks why he didn’t take the gift card and I ask him why he was so curt and he says something like “because it’s not a big deal, I don’t deserve a reward for it and I don’t want Ben thinking it’s some extraordinary deed, I just returned something that didn’t belong to me. It’s something everyone should be expected to do.” Obviously, it’s not something everyone does, but I got Bill’s point- Ben shouldn’t think it’s some hero behavior, but that it’s a standard expectation. And Ben learns it’s “the norm” only if there’s no hoorah for it. That’s probably more like it was in Bill’s lifetime. And that’s what I thought when I read the ESPN article- the article is good, Tebow is great, but why the heck are people flipping out about it?

    • Lorena says:

      “Because it’s our reaction that drives the media (they print what we like)”

      I disagree with this. I do not like about 95% of what comes from the media these days.

      I also am at a loss of why you are so upset about celebrities not doing charitable things as the norm, yet don’t hold CEO types (Gates, Jobs) to the same expectation, but then also say we have to just accept wealth disparity as “it is what it is.”

      Really? We have to accept that? I don’t think that we should. I don’t think that we should accept the richest people in America doing things to purposefully exclude others from making okay money. I do not think that we should accept that actors can pull in $30M a year and social workers make $30k. I don’t think we should accept that state university tuition can cost more than said social worker’s salary, and private university tuition can cost up to four times their salary.

      I do not think that we should accept this. Wealth disparity was not this way always, even when celebrity existed, and it does not have to be this way now.

  11. Thanks for the story about Bill and Ben. Bill sounds like a stand-up guy. That’s the kind of role modeling I hope we all aspire to practice every day. 🙂

  12. […] Again, the comments are too long to post them here, but there was a fantastic discussion about Tim Tebow and the responsibility of athletes to be charitable on this post. […]

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