NFL Nation is divided on whether the Denver Broncos were wise or wack to draft Florida quarterback Tim Tebow in the first round of last night's draft.
Example: ESPN's draft coverage juxtaposed an instant poll showing that 41 percent of respondents gave the Tebow choice an "F" with Super Bowl-winning coach turned commentator Jon Gruden's description of the two-time national champion as "a winner."
Gary Schneeberger's in Gruden's camp. The spokesman for Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, the Christian organization for whom Tebow and his mom shot a pro-life Super Bowl ad, says, "We're happy that a young man of Tim's ability and character landed so close to home," adding that he thinks Tebow combines rare talent with the sort of right-thinking lifestyle that will make him a role model parents will cheer, not jeer.
Like millions of football fans across the country, Schneeberger watched the draft coverage closely, and he says, "I think what was interesting was that a few picks before the Broncos drafted Tim, they didn't take the player seen as the best wide receiver in the draft" -- that would be Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant. "He had character issues, quote-unquote. So instead, they took a guy" -- Georgia Tech's Demaryius Thomas -- "who didn't have those. And then they took Tim."
As such, Schneeberger believes that coach Josh McDaniels "is looking for people who are not only strong football players, but are people with strong character. Everyone knows the issues with Brandon Marshall, and they traded him. And now, lo and behold, the number fifteen is available for Tim to wear."
Schneeberger confirms that the agreement with Tebow in regard to the Super Bowl ad, which stirred a media furor sparked by complaints from assorted women's organizations, pertained to that spot alone. However, he doesn't write off the prospect of future collaborations.
"I know [Focus CEO and president] Jim Daly is thrilled -- he's a Broncos fan," Schneeberger notes. "It's too early to tell what the future holds, and a lot of people will be vying for Tim's attention. But, obviously, we have some people on our team who are close with the Tebows, and I'm sure we'll say 'hi' to him."
As for Tebow, he recently gave a speech at Lipscomb University during which he said he'd been told he would lose commercial endorsements if he participated in the Focus spot.
"Tim didn't name the companies, because that's the kind of guy he is," Schneeberger says. "But I think that's somewhat of a sad commentary on the state of affairs in our nation. We live at a time when some of our greatest athletes aren't our greatest role models, but there's never been a hint of scandal attached to Tim. Many analysts see him as one of the best college football players of all time, but he did an ad thanking his mother for not aborting him even though doctors recommended that she do it -- and now advertisers don't want to use him?
"I think those companies missed a great opportunity to align their product with a young man of sterling character and great football skills. And I think those who underestimate Tim's skills and his heart and how successful he'll be in the NFL will be quite surprised."
He also believes there's an untapped market for Tebow. "We posted the story about Tim saying he'd lost endorsements on our Facebook page and asked for reactions," he allows. "And from all across the country, hundreds of people wrote in saying, 'Thank you, Tim, for setting an example that people can follow. We can't wait to see where you land, because we want to buy a Tim Tebow NFL jersey.'"
Is Tebow capable of bringing the old-fashioned definition of an athlete as role model back into style?
"I don't think it ever went out of style," Schneeberger responds. "Kids really love sports figures, and parents would love it if those sports figures their kids root for kind of teach them the right way to navigate life, not the wrong way. And even though there are all kinds of role models across the NFL and other sports, what tends to get headlines aren't the guys who behave well and do everything just right. The headlines go to the guys who veer off that path. And that's what makes Tim so interesting -- that he's a great success on the field while at the same time professing very boldly his Christianity."
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Of course, Tebow's cultural impact will be infinitely larger if he becomes a top-flight pro, and there are plenty of doubts about that. On ESPN last night, former Denver Bronco Tom Jackson argued that Tebow could only lead in the locker room if he gets on the field, and he wasn't sure that would happen very often given his highly suspect passing acumen. But Schneeberger's not worried.
"When Tom Jackson said that, two people away from him was Steve Young, someone who's in the NFL Hall of Fame even though he didn't get on the field for a lot of years in San Francisco. But when he did, it made all the difference in the world. Like Steve said, 'Never underestimate a lefty.'"
That last comment had nothing to do with politics, by the way. Here's the Tebows' Focus on the Family Super Bowl ad: