The vitriol aimed at Tim Tebow is hard to understand. Sports commentators are surprisingly forgiving of professional football players who make fools of themselves with their chest-beating antics every time they make a good play or with their childish end-zone dances following a touchdown. Unfortunately though, some of these commentators who so willingly overlook and even condone boorish, self-congratulatory behavior on the field can be downright vicious in criticizing Tim Tebow. What is Tebow’s big crime in their eyes? Instead of acting like a chest-beating, break-dancing six-year old after a touchdown, he goes down on one knee and assumes a posture of humble thankfulness. Apparently refusing to engage in narcissistic antics that say “look at me, look at me, it’s all about me,” is unacceptable in the eyes of today’s sports commentators as well as many of today’s players.

When I played the game, our coaches taught us several things that have been missing from professional football for a long time: 1) Never celebrate until the game is over, 2) Never belittle or demean another player, and 3) If you get into the end zone, act like you have been there before (i.e. no dancing or macho posturing). In short, our coaches taught us to have a little class and show some respect for the game as well as the other players on the field and the fans. Both aspects of this lesson—class and respect—are woefully missing from professional football as it is played today. Instead the game has been taken over by a ghetto gangbanger-type mentality. Players like Tim Tebow who show some class, dignity, and respect on the field—not to mention thankfulness—are belittled and criticized by sports commentators and other players, while those who behave like members of a ghetto gang are applauded. Unfortunately, the gang-like behavior of some players is emulated by young boys who are fans of professional football.

Football was a better game all around before it became infected by the gangbanging mentality that now prevails. What’s more, it was a tougher, harder game back in the day when players displayed a little class, dignity, and respect on the field. I remember football as team sport, not a sport in which every player on the field tries to single himself out for special attention while going out of his way to demean his opponents. Consequently, it is difficult to believe that Tim Tebow—an individual who regardless of what one thinks of his talent as a quarterback—played every game with class, dignity, and respect for the game, the other men on the field, and the fans. Beyond that, he played the game with humility, always trying to beat the other team, but never stooping to demeaning or belittling its players.

But none of this matters to the sports commentators and other players who harangue Tebow on a regular basis. Why? Because in addition to showing respect for the game—which they might have forgiven—he also showed thanks to God for blessing him with the opportunity to play. Tebow knew and visibly acknowledged that he was a professional football player by the grace of God, not because he was something special in and of himself. Because he understood that he should be thankful for his status as a professional athlete, he always gave credit where it was due and refused to participate in the childish, narcissistic antics that are now so common among professional football players. Because of this, Tim Tebow was and is an excellent role model for young people.

This being the case, one might expect that sports commentators and other players would admire Tebow for the positive example he always set. When I played football, humble, respectful superstars were considered an asset to the game. Unfortunately, this no longer seems to be the case. In fact, Tebow’s heart-felt Christian persona generated more verbal diatribes than compliments. He had only just entered the NFL when he became a lightning rod for anti-Christian bigots—many of whom sit behind microphones during professional football games or have access to national audiences through their word processors. For example, consider this quote from CBS columnist, Dan Berstein: “Why bother bringing these people into your world if you don’t have to? It’s not even really about Tebow, who seems to be little more than an affable simpleton. It is the creepy true-believers lapping up every last morsel of Tebow’s cheap, bumper-sticker televangelism…” This over-the-top statement by a professional journalist—although obviously the ranting of an anti-Christian bigot—is actually mild compared with some of the comments made by others who find Tebow’s Christian faith offensive.

Why such vitriol toward a young man who is so respectful of the game and the men who play it; who spends his time off the field helping build hospitals, providing for orphans, and caring for the unfortunate? The answer to this question is simple: Tim Tebow and the anti-Christian bigots who criticize him so mercilessly live in two diametrically opposed worlds, worlds that cannot be reconciled to each other. Tebow’s critics live in a world governed by self interest and self gratification. It is a world of hedonistic, narcissistic people who live by a simple creed: It’s all about me. In this world not only is man god, but every individual man is his own god. Tim Tebow, on the other hand, lives in a world characterized by selfless service to others and thankfulness to the God of Holy Scripture. Here as they say is the rub.

If Tim Tebow’s beliefs represent the truth, then those of his critics are lies—a fact so abhorrent to his critics that they respond to Tebow and his Christian beliefs out of anger and fear. Unfortunately, when people are both angry and fearful they sometimes respond by trying to undermine, castigate, or even destroy that which frightens them. Such is the case with the anti-Christian bigots who persistently criticize, belittle, and attack Tim Tebow. To them he is the personification of a worldview they find abhorrent. Why is Tebow’s Christianity so frightening to certain people? Because it holds a mirror up to them—a mirror that reflects back some uncomfortable truths they would rather not have to deal with.

I cringe when I see young boys who play pee-wee football imitating the worst behavior of professional football players. Think about it. If you have a son who likes football, would you rather his role model be a humble, thankful, caring athlete like Tim Tebow or a loud-mouthed, chest-beating moron? Tim Tebow was not drafted by any NFL team this season, so the controversy over his Christianity will probably die down for a while. But true to form, Tebow has not let this setback discourage him. Rather, he is persevering in the face of adversity. Tebow is still working out, staying in shape, and studying under a mentor who is helping him fill in some of the skill gaps that undercut his performance in the NFL.

If Tebow manages to catch on with a professional football team, the vitriol of anti-Christian bigots will quickly re-ignite itself. If this happens, ask yourself a simple question. What does the NFL need to help it find the moral compass it lost somewhere along the way: more overpaid, bad-boy gangbangers or a new crop of Tim Tebows who show respect for the game, their teammates, their opponents, and the impressionable young boys who are watching? I vote for Tebow and his fellow Christian athletes