When it criticism of Tim Tebow, his detractors have plenty of ammunition to use in their rants against him. His completion percentage is awful. His throwing mechanics are brutal. For 50 minutes, he can look like garbage. Despite having a 5-1 record as a starter, he doesn't seem to have the support of head coach John Fox or general manager John Elway.
But is his faith a reason for criticism? In Tebow's case, that has been part of the media and fan assault on him. He created a firestorm when he was asked to do a commercial during the Super Bowl for a cause steeped in fundamental Christian values, which brought Tebow's faith the forefront. Since then, he's been told to pump the brakes on making public statements about his faith – even from people like Kurt Warner, who himself at times was criticized for his public proclamations about being a man of God.
Is it fair that Tebow has been told by so many people to keep his religious beliefs to himself? Several Vikings players spoke to the issue, saying that, fair or unfair, it's just who Tebow is and, at a time when the media prefers to tear people down rather than lift them up, it's part and parcel to the social-networking world we live in today, where everyone has a forum to spew their opinions and savage the opinions of others.
"You're a public figure and the media is going to scrutinize or criticize anything they can," Fred Evans said. "If you do good, they criticize that. If you do bad, they criticize that you didn't do good. He's a man of God and I hope he keeps doing what he's doing. You shouldn't be criticized for that, but he's a public figure and it comes with the territory."
Kicker Ryan Longwell, himself a devout Christian, said Tebow has become the center of the theological firestorm by his own doing, but added that, while it isn't something he would have done, he respects Tebow's willingness to take the media jabs and barbs to maintain his own belief system.
"It's a tough subject and a tough issue," Longwell said. "My approach, being a strong Christian, is to live by a famous quote from St. Francis: ‘Preach the gospel to all the world and, if necessary, use words.' I'm a big believer that your actions speak louder than words. Tim Tebow is everything that is right with the world and everything that is wrong with the world. You want a guy that is a quality guy, a moral guy who gives every ounce of energy he has to everything he does. You want him to succeed. He is, and the world is killing him for it. I think that's the day and age we're in now. If you have a view that doesn't mesh with everybody, you're going to get grief for it. He's polarizing in that way, but I think it's awesome that a guy like that is succeeding in a business in which way his style isn't a good fit."
There is no shortage of deeply religious players in the NFL, whether they are devoted to Christianity, Islam, Judaism or any other religion. What sets Tebow apart is the frontal nature of his proclamation of his beliefs. He opens himself up to criticism and Remi Ayodele said anyone who stands alone in a public forum is going to take the slings and arrows of critics.
"I think people just like to criticize people who are different," Ayodele said. "They consider it weird, because he's not like everybody else. I like him. I like individualistic people who do their own thing. I think it's funny that everybody harps on him, but all they're really doing is making him more famous than he already is."
Offensive tackle Charlie Johnson said that if criticism is to be doled out for something other than a player's on-field performance, there are plenty of other NFL players that should come before Tebow in that particular line. Johnson said what has surprised him the most is that the response to Tebow's religious faith is that it is being treated like something he has just started publicly speaking out about. He isn't born again. He's been passionate about his religious beliefs since he was a child. It's only the last few years that it is getting national attention and Tebow is adept at preaching his word from the pulpit the NFL provides.
"He's a prominent person, so there has been a lot of focus us on him," Johnson said. "Some people think he's used that status as a podium to push his influence and his beliefs. The thing I believe gets missed is that this isn't something that just happened. He was just as devout when he came out of high school and his entire time at Florida. This isn't something new. It's not like he's changed. There's a lot of self-promotional stuff that goes on in the NFL. You would think that would get more criticized than a man's faith."
While the public perception is mixed on Tebow – both as a quarterback and a man of faith – the general consensus among players is that Tebow can put the league in a positive light because there are a lot of players who share his views, they just aren't as vocal about it. Anthony Herrera may have summed it up best when he said that, like him or not as a football player, Tebow should be respected for his core values much more than respected as an NFL football player. Careers come and go, but faith can last a lifetime (and beyond, according to those who believe).
"People can't say anything bad about Tebow," Herrera said. "He's a good person who is strong in what he believes in and is going to stand up strong for it. You have to fully respect him for that. I've got friends that play with the Broncos. He doesn't try to push (his beliefs) on anybody, it's just what he believes in and he believes in it strongly. You have to commend him for that. He's a man of God. People always fear what they don't understand and it seems like they don't like to see people doing good. There are people who are going to hate him, but they way I see it, if so many people are talking about you and some of them hating on you, you're doing something right. I fully respect him for that and I hope he keeps it up."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Tebow has support of faith among Vikings
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