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Inspirational or offensive, Tim Tebow’s no phony

If only the Tim Tebow Effect could take the miracle-working quarterback and the Denver Broncos all the way to the Super Bowl. It would be so much fun.Unlikely, say the prognosticators. Tebow is up against Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots on Saturday night in the next round of the NFL playoffs. Brady is king of the fourth quarter. No more comebacks, no more overtime shockers for Tebow. No more games in which the quarterback who throws like a shot putter somehow wills his underdog team to victory.But with Tebow, you never know …Perhaps that’s why so many people feel threatened by him. He is propelled by faith. For those who don’t believe in it, he is a contradiction. Because for Tebow, faith works.Tebow, an evangelical Christian raised by missionary parents, wears his religion on his sleeve — and used to wear it on his eye black. His first comment after every game is, “I would like to thank my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.”After every touchdown, he takes a knee in prayer, which has become known worldwide as “Tebowing.” He prays on the sideline. He points to heaven.He makes a lot of people uncomfortable with his mixing of sports and religion. He offends with what they perceive as intrusive proselytizing.But that’s who Tebow is: A believer. There’s nothing phony about him. For the non-believers — and I’m not advocating pro or con for any kind of belief system — Tebow represents a challenge to the idea that a higher power does not exist.Was it mere coincidence that Tebow, whose favorite Bible verse is John 3:16, threw for 316 yards with an average completion of 31.6 yards against the favored Pittsburgh Steelers?The brain says yes. But that part of the heart that appreciates the inexplicable says maybe not. His leadership trumped his flaws in the pocket. Spurring discussionHe has done something jocks rarely do, because they’re one-dimensional or timid or too busy spending their millions. He’s provoked discussion — about free speech, religion, fundamentalist politics, pre-marital sex, abortion.Tebow says God doesn’t care who wins football games. He’s not private about his Christianity, but he doesn’t shove it on others with fire and brimstone rhetoric.He expresses himself in a humble and guileless manner. But he uses the platform fame has given him. You can listen or mute him. You can join or dismiss him. You can call him an inspiration or a propagandist. Don’t be stunnedBut we ought not be embarrassed by him. When asked before his senior year at Florida if he was saving himself for marriage, Tebow told a roomful of reporters that yes, he was. There was an awkward silence, then Tebow laughed with much gusto: “I think y’all are stunned,” he said.Instead of stunned, instead of mocking Tebow, we should be glad for an unusual athlete role model who tells kids it’s cool to be a responsible man rather than a promiscuous superstar.Tebow, who works at his parents’ orphanage in the Philippines, spends time with an ill fan each week and says he gains perspective on true courage. How can you resent Tebow after hearing that?Resentment flowsBut people do. From Tebow Mania has sprung YouTube parodies and an ugly tweet from comedian and atheist Bill Maher after Denver lost to Buffalo. “Wow, Jesus just [expletive] Tebow bad! And on Xmas eve! Somewhere in hell Satan is tebowing, saying to Hitler, ‘Hey, Buffalo’s killing them!’ ’’Others on the religious right have appropriated Tebow, calling him the Chosen One. Don’t blame Tebow. He’s just doing what he thinks is right. I witnessed the Tebow Effect at Books and Books when he signed copies of his autobiography.He looked everyone warmly in the eye, chatted, answered questions, posed for pictures, joked with kids, called adults “ma’am” and “sir.” I realized there was nothing mystical about him. He was genuine, through and through. Radiating faith, not only in his God, but in people. His teammates would tell you the same thing.

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