Why Tim Tebow Matters: Redefining Role Models in the #MeToo Age

(COMMENTARY) We are living in an era where role models are lacking. The #MeToo movement - and the courage victims of sexual assault have exhibited over the past few months - has, in a very short time, eroded an entire layer of talent from our society. A generation of actors, artists, politicians and journalists have been erased from existence overnight. At the same time, those on the liberal end of the spectrum have elevated former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for his refusal to stand during the National Anthem before games, while some conservatives have contorted themselves to defend Roy Moore during the hotly-contested Senate race in Alabama. 

Men who dunk, throw, hit or kick a ball for a living automatically become role models. However, too many of them have let us down.

This is nothing new. In 1993, America was entering what would become known as a period highlighted by peace and great economic prosperity. The unprecedented financial growth that transpired over the next eight years would come to define the ‘90s, although President Bill Clinton’s moral failings tarnished a lot of that legacy. Clinton’s behavior, largely forgiven by the American public in the years soon after the scandal, has come into focus again following the country's #MeToo awakening.

While Kaepernick has been shunned by NFL teams worried about their bottom lines (whether he’s good enough to be a starter or even a backup is another debate), it’s another former NFL star-turned-minor-league baseball player that embodies the values people should emulate: Tim Tebow. In a society that values scandal and social media transgressions, Tebow is very much a contrarian. He’s a rebel among agnostics. He exudes an unusual wholesomeness - something that gets him applause in middle America, "snickers" from many living on the coasts - that appears to be more from the 1950s than the year 2017. 

Athletes, the people so many young people look up to, have also triggered debate. During the Clinton years, Michael Jordan was iconic – as immortalized by his silhouette on Nike sneakers – as he led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles between 1991 and 1998. While he appeared to live an exemplary life, Jordan, who later failed as a minor league baseball player before returning to basketball, was more of a marketing pawn than a genuine role model. Even Gatorade ads of the time implored kids to “be like Mike.” It was all part of a very smart marketing strategy.

A Nike ad featuring fellow NBA star Charles Barkley was the antithesis of that message. It was in that 1993 commercial where he said: “I'm not a role model. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids.” That statement proved polarizing and something Americans debate to this day. Barkley did not want to be a role model, even though public figures like himself are given that responsibility whether they like it or not. 

Tim Tebow is a lot like Brussels sprouts – he’s the role model Americans need, but few prefer.

Men who dunk, throw, hit or kick a ball for a living automatically become role models. However, too many of them have let us down: Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, Brett Favre just to name a few. Men like Tebow, an Evangelical Christian, are in short supply. America needs to embrace such a person – not shun him – regardless of one’s faith. Being a good person, giving to charity and dedicating your time to helping those in need isn’t a monopoly held only by Christians. They are the basis of our civilization and something all Americans should aspire to. Tebow is a lot like Brussels sprouts – he’s the role model Americans need, but few prefer.

At a gathering on December 8 at The Sheen Center in New York City, Tebow held a fundraiser for his foundation that helps special needs teens feel that they have self-worth through a series of events. He also spoke to the audience of college students and sports fans, a one-show of sorts, where he discussed touched upon his childhood, missionary work and experiences as an athlete. A great storyteller who is at ease in front of an audience, Tebow’s message of love and hope is refreshing in a world of so much negativity and despair. This is someone who should be celebrated, not only because he loves God and wants you to as well, but because he lives his faith. He is a better person for it and in doing so elevates those around him. That is the very definition of a role model. 

This is a time when all men should look inward at themselves. What kind of man do you want to be? Masculinity has been redefined in our culture over the past 50 years. It has been redefined in many ways by Hollywood and the media, the very institutions that now find themselves having to deal with scandalous and inappropriate behavior. These gropers among us lack respect for women and themselves. They are pathetic figures who don’t represent masculinity at all. On the contrary, they are losers who lack a moral compass. They are lost in a sea of cowardly behavior and self-gratification.

Tebow, on the other hand, has been selfless. He’s embraced his celebrity status and reacted to his critics with the poise of a gentleman. Like him or not, there is no denying that the Heisman Trophy winner has brought his public persona – whether as quarterback or in his role as a TV sports analyst – to everything he does. Tebow knows he’s a public figure. Whatever good work he does will be highlighted, any wrongdoing even more.

In Matthew 10:22, Jesus told his followers: “All nations will hate you because you are my followers.” Many believe this is why Tebow is no longer in the NFL. That may or may not be the case. One thing is certain: in a world where people once venerated – and even conspired to cover up for – Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Kevin Spacey, let’s highlight men like Tebow. Our society would be better off for it.