Tim Tebow's first season in the National Football League came to a humiliating, but not unexpected, end last weekend when his Denver Broncos fell to the New England Patriots in a 45-10 defeat, during which the quarterback got sacked five times.
With no fourth-quarter comeback to marvel at and no new sideline displays of zeal to analyze, the media frenzy fueling Tebow-mania ebbed this week, giving the young player's fans and detractors a chance to inspect his influence on the faith he so publicly holds dear.
Tebow has been mocked, criticized, scrutinized and praised for his constant professions of devotion to Jesus and his kneeling supplication during games. But other than offering encouragement to other Christian athletes, some say Tebow has had little lasting influence on young believers.
Pete Flemming and Leah Stratton, both 20-year-old student spiritual leaders at The King's College in New York City, shrugged when asked about Tebow's demonstrative faith.
"Tebow is someone who's open with his faith and excellent in what he does," said Flemming, who admits to being a loyal Patriots fan.
Talking about Tebow has made conversations about faith easier to start with non-Christian friends, Flemming said, but the athlete's approach to evangelism hasn't changed the way Flemming has seen his peers share their faith. And it certainly hasn't changed his football team allegiance.
"There's definitely no sympathy for him when he goes against the Pats," Flemming joked.
Stratton, who cheered for Tebow's Broncos during last weekend's game, said that she didn't notice any change in her peers' witness because of Tebow. Only her "nominal Christian" friends seemed influenced by the quarterback, she said.
"They like to be associated with him because he's a Christian and he's cool," she said.
Anthony Bradley, an associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College, suggested last year in a controversial column that Tebow would be a better example if he were less visible.
"In the final analysis, it seems Tebow might help himself and the kingdom by getting off of his knees, taking the verses off of his face, and being faithful to Christ without the public acts like all the other Christians in the NFL have done for decades," Bradley concluded.
Now that Tebow's season is over, Bradley re-affirmed his position, saying that Tebow has had "zero effect" on young people's faith.
"Why do I say this so confidently? Everyone that objected to my article was a parent," he said. "He's had zero effect on the faith of young people. He appeals to the faith of the mothers -- they want their sons to be him and their daughters to marry him."
Despite his criticism of Tebow's public displays of faith, Bradley acknowledges the quarterback is a good role model.
"He has a commitment to Christ, a commitment to excellence, and he is exemplary as a man," Bradley said.
And it's Tebow's character, both on and off the field, that has left a lasting impression on other athletes, said Jarrod Lynn, campus director of Athletes In Action at Brown University.
Tebow has proved that there is a reason to play sports beyond "just winning," said Lynn, who discusses the quarterback often with Brown athletes who identify as Christians. Because of Tebow's example, students ask themselves how they can live out their faith more publicly, Lynn said.
Walt Day, director of the pro-sports ministry division of Athletes in Action in the New England region, agreed, citing the boldness in public faith demonstrations by a young hockey player that Day has been mentoring.
"By Tim being so confident, it's encouraging him to be bold," Day said of the hockey player. "Tebow just comes across so sincerely, and that impresses people."
Tebow's actions have energized other Christian athletes, who have a healthy respect for how he's living out his faith, Lynn said.
"It doesn't mean that if you're a Christian, you have to do it like Tebow does it," Lynn said. "But at the same time we have nothing to be ashamed of."
c. 2012 WORLD News Service. Used with permission.
Publication date: January 21, 2012