Author Ava Pennington
Author Ava Pennington

Sports fans are well-known for unfailing loyalty to their teams. Players come and players go, but for better or worse, true fans stay faithful.

Until now. Until Tebow. Tim Tebow is more than just a football player. He’s a phenomenon. Fans flock to him. And now that he’s been traded from the Denver Broncos to the New York Jets, self-avowed New York “haters” find themselves newly-minted Jets fans.

Why such passionate loyalty for a player rather than a team? After all, Tebow is not the best player by a long shot. His unorthodox playing style, throwing accuracy issues, and the very public sharing of his faith have generated a heated group of critics. Yet he set the NFL Draft record for jersey sales. His jersey – number 15 – the same number he wore when he played college football for the Gators, was the bestselling jersey in the NFL each month since he was drafted.

Perhaps it’s because football is not Tebow’s god. Tim Tebow has a higher calling. While he loves the game, it does not consume him. And he’s not alone.

Basketball has Jeremy Lin. He plays for the New York Knicks and who scored a career-high 38 points in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers last month. Lin doesn’t just “talk the talk,” he “walks the walk.” For example, this week he reached out to an ex-ESPN employee who was fired for writing a racially offensive headline about Lin.

Baseball has Mariano Rivera, called the greatest closer of all time after saving 603 games for the New York Yankees. But as Rivera says, “It doesn’t define who I am…God has put me in a special place to talk about Him.”

If you’ve ever held a sparkler on the Fourth of July, you know how mesmerizing the bright, multi-colored sparks can be. But they soon fizzle out, leaving nothing but a short memory. Bonfires are different. Built with solid logs and lots of kindling, their fire burns slow, a steady glow lasting well into the night.

Men like Tebow, Lin, and Rivera are like well-built bonfires. They are competitive, but the game is not their life. Games are like sparklers, quick to fizzle as new players, more games, and future seasons take center stage. No, these athletes keep their focus on an eternal prize – things whose glow will last long after games, seasons, and statistics are a distant memory.

No matter how much fans heap praise and accolades on them, these athletes do not seek glory for themselves. On the field or on the court, their goal is to glorify God. When they’re not playing, their goal is to live and serve in a way that leaves no doubt as to Who gave them their abilities.

Football, basketball, baseball. Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, Mariano Rivera. They are true role models, not just for kids, but for all of us.

Who are your favorite role models?


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  1. Diane Vernitsky Jellen

    Great anaolgy, well put. Thanks, Ava, for reminding us who the true hero is for all time.

  2. Carrie L. Lewis

    I’ve never thought of anyone in particular as my role model. There are people whose lives I’ve admired, so maybe they are role models. Among them are….

    My paternal Grandmother who birthed 13 or 14 children and raised twelve, milked cows by hand, raised a garden, cooked, cleaned and all the rest and who remained so serene in her daily life that the one or two times she was ever heard to curse (very mild swear words), it was like an earthquake struck.

    My mother, who prayed for my unbelieving father for most of their marriage. They were married when she was in her early 20s. Dad died nearly sixty years later, two years after coming to the LORD.

    My husband of ten years, whom I found from the beginning to be a man of character, well grounded in the Word and the faith and able to see the Big Picture as well as the minutiae. He’s the one I go to for spiritual guidance these days.

    There are countless others in the Bible whose lives inspired and motivate me.

    I admire the sports heroes you mentioned, too. Standing up for faith in the public and hostile arena of today’s society takes a good deal of courage.

    But without these closer role models, I’d be just as likely to be in the hostile crowd now, instead of where I am.

  3. admin

    Carrie – Good point. Relationships are critical to our emotional and spiritual development, aren’t they?

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