I don’t know of any college athletes that have had more of a fanatical following and have electrified fans around the country like Tim Tebow (when he was at Florida) and Johnny Manziel (who currently plays for Texas A&M). Tim Tebow in 2007 became the first college sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. Last year Johnny Manziel became the first college freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. It’s also important to note that Tim Tebow led the Florida Gators to two National Championships. As big as Johhny Football seems to us now, Tebow was even bigger in his day.
Make no mistake, Tim Tebow was a legend in college sports, but the question remains: How did he handle the fame and attention?
We’ll come back to that. I want to acknowledge that both athletes are natural leaders. Both are gifted in athletics. Both know football. Both know what it takes to win. Both are fierce competitors. Both have broken NCAA records. So, the question becomes: What’s the difference between Tebow and Manziel?
I think it comes down to the little c-word: Character. The dictionary defines character as moral or ethical quality. I’m proud to say that through all the hype, all the craziness, all the wins, titles, awards and records, Tebow never waivered in his faith and commitment to Christ. He never fell into sin or brought shame to his school or his family. He stayed strong and pure and was a great role model for young people everywhere.
What’s going on with Manziel? Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the quarterback was accused of signing memorabilia for a autograph broker for the sum of $7,500, which would be an NCAA violation. This past Sunday Johnny Manziel met with the NCAA for six hours and the result of that meeting was that Manziel would be suspended for the first half of the Aggies’ season opener against Rice University.
It’s hardly a suspension and a mere slap on the wrist for Manziel. Texas A&M fans really dodged a bullet, and that’s great for their team, but what message does this send to young athletes? Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge Johnny Manziel fan. I bought a Johnny Football t-shirt last year. I went to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and saw him play in person. I love him on the field, but I’m highly disappointed with his numerous questionable actions off the field.
I say I love him on the field – Did you see him this past Saturday? He was taunting other players and acting like a punk. I (along with the rest of the ESPN commentators) was disappointed.
So what’s the moral of this story? What’s the lesson here? Be a Tebow. Hold on to your character and integrity. Seek after God with your whole heart. When I hire a new staff member, character is at the very top of what I look for. I hope you’ll not overlook this as you lead your organization. Another one of our pastors is in the process of hiring a new staff member and I told him the same thing. I said spend more time getting to know his heart and character and worry about his talent and gifting later.
With all that being said, I’m thrilled that college football is back. Let’s enjoy this season and cheer for athletes that demonstrate character and grace both on and off the field.
*** I write all my blog posts early. After writing this and putting it in the cue, we learned that Tim Tebow was cut by the New England Patriots. I still think Tim Tebow has what it takes to make it in the NFL, but even if his life goes in a different direction – I’m confident God will use him. Brian Dodd said, “I want to tell Tim Tebow “Thank You”. You were a great player but an even better person. You have lived your life with character, dignity, grace, respect, love, mercy, and been a true picture of what a Christ-follower looks like. I can’t wait to see how God is going to use you moving forward.” I wholeheartedly agree. Also, click on Brian’s name above to read his full blog post and the story he shares about my friend, Mike Linch.