Unless you've been living under a rock for the past four college football seasons, you know that Tebow is an evangelical Christian who sees football as a platform that allows him to spread his Christianity. For most of his four years that message has resounded throughout the South, and I've argued Tebow's passionate Christianity is one reason that he became popular not just with Florida fans but with many other Southern football fans.
Now that he transitions to a larger stage outside the welcoming footprint of the most religious portion of the United States, the question has to be asked: How will Tebow's evangelism be received?
In many ways, Tebow's ascent in college football is unique. Thanks to his 48-7 career record, including three 13-1 seasons, two national titles, a Heisman Trophy, and consistent exposure on ESPN and CBS national telecasts, there are few, if any, college athletes in the country who have ever received more attention during their careers. The result is that before he even takes a single snap, Tebow is already more popular than at least half the starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
Tebow's on- and off-field popularity has been firmly focused on his own personal biography, his mission trips, his family's faith and even what is likely to be the focus of the television ad during the Super Bowl, the fact that Tebow's mother was told to have an abortion rather than carry her fifth child to term. Pam Tebow became sick during a mission trip and rejected doctor's advice that she have an abortion. Ultimately she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Tebow.
Now the 30-second Super Bowl ad, which will cost around $2.5 million, is being paid for by Focus on the Family, a religious organization that opposes abortion. In a release the organization stated as follows:
"Tim and Pam share our respect for life and our passion for helping families thrive. Focus on the Family is about ... strengthening families by empowering them with the tools they need to live lives rooted in morals and values."
The Super Bowl ad will just be the latest surge of attention for the most famous college athlete ... ever. With that attention has come fawning cover profiles in Sports Illustrated, countless television stories, and the seduction of yours truly into the camp of devout Tebow fandom. As I stated in my Sugar Bowl column, I love Tebow. But little to none of that media attention has been critical. Indeed, in the annals of American sporting culture, it's hard to find a player who has received more positive publicity in comparison to negative publicity.
The old cliche is that all publicity is good publicity. But with Tebow all publicity truly is good publicity.
In fact, I dare you, find me an entire article about Tim Tebow that has been written by anyone, anywhere that has a negative tone.
Those stories don't exist.
Will that change now that Tebow is becoming a pro athlete?
I think so.
Because our society doesn't view religious pro athletes with the same level of deference. We view their sincerity in a more questionable light, raise issues with the proselytizing they do in post-game interviews. Whereas many Southerners, the largest audience for his college games, felt Tebow's religiosity was a welcome departure for a college athlete, many feel hearing a multi-millionaire pro athlete espouse his religious views to the entire nation crosses the line from welcoming to hectoring.
That's why few, if any, pro athletes have approached Tebow's level of influence. Not only is our society too cynical to accept the legitimacy of the pro athletes' beliefs, we expect that the athlete is living a double life, hypocritical to his core. The result is that most pro athletes have a negligible influence on cultural mores.
Don't believe me? Who is the pro athlete most famous for his religion in the present day?
Probably Kurt Warner.
Tim Tebow is already far more famous than Kurt Warner.
In fact, let's be clear, the moment he is drafted Tim Tebow will be the athlete most famous for his religion since Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali.
And suddenly multicultural America, with a variety of religious beliefs, will come face-to-face with a man whose strict adherence to a muscular form of Christianity, despite his personal charisma, isn't all warm and fuzzy. Especially when that statement of religious values comes not at the close of a game in a short on-field interview, but in a contest that the athlete is not even competing in. Focus on the Family, the right wing non-profit funding Tebow's ad, isn't a middle-of-the-road religious organization. Tebow's Super Bowl ad, for instance, will embrace a pro-life stance, which is the position of Focus on the Family, but something that half of America will disagree with.
Will that stance be controversial?
Certainly it will in many cities across the length and width of our country. And certainly it will be for many sports fans who sit down to watch the Super Bowl as an escape from the more serious issues facing our society. We come to watch football and funny ads, not be convinced that our view on abortion is wrong or right.
But opposing abortion isn't the most controversial of Focus on the Family's stances. The organization also opposes all forms of gambling, the theory of evolution -- preferring intelligent design -- premarital sex, and the so-called "homosexual agenda."
How many fans watching the Super Bowl will be able to raise their hand and assert that they've never gambled or had premarital sex or supported the theory of evolution? (Heck, some may do all three during the telecast.)
All of these issues are incredibly controversial with well-meaning people embracing beliefs on both sides. By appearing in an ad on behalf of Focus on the Family, Tebow provides an endorsement for these other beliefs as well. So far Tim Tebow's own personal charisma has served to mask some of the intolerance associated with his own religious beliefs. By taking an avowed stand against abortion on the same day America celebrates the greatest sporting day on the calendar, Tim Tebow is taking a huge risk and stepping into a new arena.
He's no longer America's golden Christian amateur.
He's a paid professional.
And for many, that's going to make all the difference.
Clay Travis is the author of three books. His latest, "On Rocky Top: A Front Row Seat to The End of an Era" chronicles the 2008 Tennessee football season and is on sale now and makes a great stocking stuffer. You have a stocking for Martin Luther King Day, right?