Derrick Rose, Tim Tebow, etc.: Is America Searching for a Sports Hero?

There has been some talk lately about whether elite level athletes should be considered role models. A recent piece on this topic (relating to Derrick Rose, Chicago Tribune “Opinion” Article on Chicago Bull Derrick Rose Slightly Bent), which I published here and on the sports website Bleacher Report, totaled in excess of 3300 hits. That is a decent number of “reads” in less than two weeks.

In that article I discussed the idea that no matter what we as individuals (especially parents) think about elevating these athletes to “hero” status, it is not we who get to make that distinction. It is the youth of America, young up-and-coming athletes, and society as a whole who have that power.

Hence, as I detailed in that Derrick Rose piece, the importance of elite level athletes seeing themselves as role models and acting accordingly. In doing so, they can make a difference.

Now I am well aware of the fact that current attitudes have certainly shifted away from this athlete as role model theme, and rightfully so based on what we see and hear regarding the actions (both on and off the field) of some of our star athletes. The sheer magnitude of their popularity brings down a firestorm of media attention when they cross any sort of ethical line or standard.

Fair? Not really. However, with the rewards these star athletes receive from society, you would think they might feel some sort of obligation to give back by representing good examples for others, especially our youth. Of course they don’t have to, but they should. At least that is my take on it.

That brings me back to the title of this article, Is America In Search of a Sports Hero??? I am certainly cognizant that all those hits on my Derrick Rose role model piece might simply be associated with the popularity of Derrick Rose. Just his
name alone brings in interested readers so I don’t think it appropriate to use that as justification to answer “yes” to the question indicated in my title.

However, ESPN’s recent sports poll on who is America’s favorite athlete, well…that certainly says a lot. And not just because of who was chosen, but because of what he stands for and how large the margin was between him and others up for the honor.

If you haven’t guessed by now, Tim Tebow was ESPN’s sports poll winner of “America's favorite active pro athlete” for the month of December. Some of the facts surrounding his selection:

  • “In the 18 years of the ESPN Sports Poll only 11 different athletes -- a list that includes Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and LeBron James -- have been No. 1 in the monthly polling.”
  • He was “was picked by 3 percent of those surveyed as their favorite active pro athlete. That put him ahead of Kobe Bryant (2 percent), Aaron Rodgers (1.9 percent), Peyton Manning (1.8 percent) and Tom Brady (1.5 percent) in the top-five of the results.”
  • He “‘rose to the top before the end of his second pro season. It took Tiger Woods three years, LeBron James eight years and Kobe Bryant 11 years.’”
  • “Tebow is just the sixth different athlete to finish No. 1 in the monthly rankings since 2007. The others are Brett Favre, Manning, Woods, Bryant and James.”

Those are quite a few amazing statistics for an individual who was touted to be a bust as an NFL quarterback by a good number of experts. There are still many who doubt his ability to ever be successful in the league as a quarterback. Few, however, have any ground to stand on when questioning his leadership.

So in answering that question I posed, is America searching for a sports hero, to that I would have to answer a resounding, YES!!! However, there is more to the story than what the above statistics seem to show.

You see people not only want an athlete to be successful, dedicated, character-driven and hard-working on the field of play, able to pull their team away from the jaws of defeat with superior performance and leadership, they want them to live that persona off of the field as well.

And guess what, Tim Tebow, whether you like and believe in him or not, gives them that.

His current actions off the field resemble someone working toward sainthood. He gives back, helps the needy, searches out those less fortunate and tries to make their lives better, even if just for a moment.

Hey, don’t take my word for it, just read what nationally-renowned sports writer Rick Reilly had to say about him in his commentary I believe in Tim Tebow.

This guy, [Tebow], is not only humble but seems to innately understand, and demonstrate, all the intrinsic qualities we want to see all kids develop through their own sports experiences―whether they “go pro” or not. He epitomizes what many should aspire to be, and I am not talking about being a pro quarterback here, I am talking about being the type of person we all have the capability of becoming.

And all these good deeds he does, well…he seems to do them merely because he feels he is supposed to, because it is the right thing to do―regardless of whether or not someone is watching. That, my friend, is character!

So, yes, I believe America is searching for a sports hero and they just might have found one in Tim Tebow.

Oh, we can argue all day whether this type of hero worship is fair or unfair, right or wrong, even good or bad, but you can’t argue with the fact that people are looking for someone to idolize. The Tim Tebow story erases any doubt of that.

In fact, a coaching friend and colleague of mine suggested I change the title of my forthcoming book from Becoming a True Champion: Achieving Athletic Excellence From the Inside Out to something like Tim Tebow, The True Champion!

You know what? Based on the intrinsic qualities Tim Tebow seems to possess―the ones we would like all kids to learn, he just might be right.


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