FIRST-PERSON: It's not hard to root for Tim Tebow
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)--You don't have to be a Florida Gator to love Tim Tebow. Indeed, I'm certain many -- like me -- have become Gators because they were first fans of Tebow.
Before Tebow's emergence as a college football phenom, I was a nominal Florida State Seminole fan. After all, it's hard not to love Bobby Bowden (especially as a Florida Baptist), and my daughter is a rabid Seminole.
However, during Tebow's freshman year at the University of Florida, I began to cheer for the Gators -- in the closet, I would joke later with friends, so as to not enrage my daughter. In his second year, I publicly declared my admiration (what my Tennessee Volunteer son-in-law calls my "man crush") for Tebow, living with the consequential familial conflict.
Subsequently, my son became a Florida student, firmly planting the Smith household in the Gator camp (notwithstanding the protests of my daughter).
Even the most committed fan of FSU, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Miami -- and any other Gator rival -- who is first and foremost a follower of Jesus Christ has to admire a young man who so strongly and winsomely stands for Christ.
Having completed his first season in the National Football League with the Denver Broncos -- a 2010 first-round draft pick, contrary to the expectation of the "experts" -- Tebow is continuing to use his platform for the cause of Christ to a watching world with the release of an autobiography, "Through My Eyes," written with the assistance of Nathan Whitaker.
It may seem presumptuous for a 24-year-old to author an autobiography. Needless to say, Tebow is not your average 24-year-old.
The national attention he has lived under for more than five years -- the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy, two national championships, multiple other awards, and the high-profile role Tebow has played in international and domestic humanitarian efforts -- has given him plenty to write about.
Released on May 31, "Through My Eyes" (HarperCollins) is No. 6 on The New York Times Best Sellers list for hardcover nonfiction, as of the Aug. 21 issue.
It's no secret that Americans are increasingly less likely to read books -- one study found that more than 40 percent of college graduates never read another book after they leave school. Men, especially, are generally less enthusiastic book readers. These realities make a book like "Through My Eyes" particularly useful -- especially among Christian men, as well as young men and boys.
A recurring theme of the book is based on a favorite quote Tebow repeatedly cites: "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."
As enormously talented as Tebow is, every step along his football journey he has had to prove the critics wrong about his ability to play quarterback, the most important position on the gridiron. And so, Tebow has made sure he works harder than those against whom he competes.
When the Gators lost in The Swamp early in the 2008 season to Mississippi, seemingly dashing their hopes for a national championship, Tebow gave an impassioned statement to the media after the game, apologizing to the Gator Nation for the loss -- and promising no one would work harder to overcome the defeat.
Known as "the promise," Tebow's 107-word statement is immortalized on a plaque at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, concluding with: "You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season. God bless."
As clear as the hard work message is, Tebow's devotion to Christ and commitment to live for and trust God is the overarching theme of "Through My Eyes."
Indeed, the book's title plays off Tebow's use of Bible verse references written in "eye black" -- patches players wear under their eyes to minimize the sun's reflection -- for which he became so well known. During the BCS National Championship in January 2009, Tebow used John 3:16 -- resulting in millions of Google searches of the verse during the game.
As Tebow enters his second NFL season after seeing limited action his first year, he does so with a new coach and team management -- people who didn't make the decision to draft him.
According to various media reports, John Elway, Bronco quarterback legend and the Broncos' new executive vice president of football operations, is high on Tebow. Still, many experts remain who question Tebow's ability to translate his college success to the NFL.
Tebow faces this uncertainty as he has previous challenges to his abilities -- with hard work and, more importantly, with the confidence of God's sovereignty.
"I dealt with the uncertainty the way that I've always tried to: I don't know what the future holds, but I know who holds my future," Tebow writes, reflecting on the firing of former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels, the man who made him a first-round draft pick.
"I know that no matter what happens, there's a plan for it, and even though we don't always understand it all and why things happen the way they do, I know that one day it will all make sense as part of God's eternal plan for all of our lives," Tebow says.
"Even if it doesn't turn out the way that I hope, it will be disappointing but I'll be all right, because God never stops loving me, or you. And God will use every one of those things -- some of which seem good and some bad to you at the time --in His overall plan for your life and mine."
It's my prayer that God will protect Tim Tebow and that he will continue to trust God as he works hard to succeed in the NFL and beyond. I also pray that by "Through My Eyes" and his daily testimony, many people will continue to be touched by Tebow's witness -- and more than becoming a fan of him, many will become followers of Christ.
James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness (GoFBW.com), where this column first appeared.