The ex-Bronco/Jet/Patriot/Eagle would certainly not be the first former footballer to seek political office, and several gridiron greats have won seats in Congress, such as Heath Shuler, Jon Runyan and the late Jack Kemp. But what makes Tebow distinct — and what has always made him a somewhat polarizing figure in and outside the world of sports — is his unabashed, evangelical Christian faith, which has long been the most well-established aspect of his public persona.
But whatever Tebow’s future in politics, he’s already taken a stand on a major partisan issue. Before he became a journeyman quarterback, and even before his iconic prayer stance on the football field (later labeled “Tebowing”), the University of Florida star made his debut on the national stage as anti-abortion advocate. As a Heisman trophy winner and eventual first round draft pick, Tebow had a high profile for a college athlete back in 2010, and he used his newfound fame to star alongside his mother in an infamous 30-second Super Bowl ad, sponsored by the far right organization Focus on the Family, which recounted the dramatic story of his birth.
In 1987, Tebow’s mother, also a devout Christian, was working as missionary in the Philippines when she was pregnant with him. She contracted a severe form of dysentery and after antibiotics she took caused damage to the fetus, physicians in the country recommended that she get an abortion in order to protect her own life. She demurred and ultimately gave birth to a healthy Tebow, making her and her famous son iconic figures in the anti-abortion movement. What the ad, and many mainstream narratives about the story neglected to mention was the fact that abortion — even when a mother’s life is at stake — was not legal in the Philippines at the time of Tebow’s birth.
There were passionate protests against the ad at the time, with reproductive rights activists lobbying CBS, which aired the Super Bowl that year, not to run the spot. In addition to pointing out how abortion doctors in the Philippines were criminalized, activists noted that women who received the procedure could also face jail time.
“In 2008 alone, at least 1000 women died, and 90,000 more suffered complications, as a result of the Philippines’ criminal abortion ban,” wrote Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, at the time. “Given this context, it raises questions about whether physicians in the Philippines would have urged a married pregnant woman to illegally terminate her pregnancy in 1987.”
“This campaign is about holding CBS and the NFL and the other Super Bowl advertisers accountable for inserting an exceedingly controversial issue into a place where we all hope Americans will be united, not divided, in terms of watching America’s most-watched sporting event” added Jehmu Greene, president of the Women’s Media Center, in separate statement.
“I know some people won’t agree with it,” Tebow told reporters ahead of its first airing. “But I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe. I’ve always been very convicted of [his views on abortion] because that’s the reason I’m here, because my mom was a very courageous woman.” Later, Tebow told Fox News host Bill O’Reilly the ad “wasn’t judging anyone, it was just celebrating my mom’s decision, her special story.”
Despite the backlash, the ad aired and Tebow has not shied away from espousing his religious conservatism since. He has delivered speeches on his beliefs to a wide variety of organizations, co-wrote a religion-influenced memoir, has advocated for faith-based abstinence and has famously decided to maintain his virginity until marriage. In post-game press conferences, he would thank “first and foremost, my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.”
“I have no problem, ever, sharing what I believe. I’m a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, and that is first and foremost the most important thing in my life. For me it’s about having a relationship with Christ. And that’s pretty much it. That’s the basis of what I believe in,” he told reporters in 2012.
Druing his brief NFL career — he failed to make it past the practice squad after his first three seasons — Tebow’s demonstrative displays of faith both enhanced his following and infuriated his detractors. And yet, just last month a widely shared Public Policy Polling survey found that he was the fifth most popular quarterback in America, even though he hasn’t appeared in an NFL game since 2012. He narrowly topped Super Bowl winners Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning.
As far back as 2013, Tebow’s name was being floated as a potential “political savior” for Florida. “Doesn’t matter what office he would run for, he’d be unbeatable. Tebow’s the perfect immaculate candidate in the Sunshine State, if not the nation,” blogger Steven Kurlander wrote that fall. “The amazing Tebow marketing machine has already established him as the most devout athlete in America, and consequently he already has a devoted following of evangelical Christians who represent a huge voting bloc in Florida.”
“He’s what Florida and American needs in politics these days. We’re talking a young, smart, accomplished candidate that’s the ultimate anti-[Anthony] Weiner candidate. Instead of his tweeting his anatomical junk, he consistently streams biblical phrases to more than 2.4 million followers,” he added.
On Wednesday, Kurlander doubled down on his position from three years ago, reiterating his interest in drafting Tebow for a political run. ”I would hope he would follow the Jack Kemp role model of being an athlete turned politician. Kemp certainly was a great politician of his time,” he told MSNBC. “I do think that Tebow would present a valuable alternative in terms of his moral and athletic background as a new model of decency and discipline for the GOP in Florida to counter Trump’s successful shock political approach.”
“The Christian right certainly needs a good shot in the arm by presenting a new generation of multi-faceted candidates like Tebow at this point that could be attractive not only to evangelical voters but die hard Gator fans in Florida too,” he added
At 28 years old, Tebow is ineligible to run for a U.S. Senate seat right now, but he could seek a spot in the House. However, he has yet to offer a specific timeline for his potential foray into lawmaking, so unfortunately for Kurlander, and other fans of the ex-QB, they will have to play the waiting game to see if the former NFL starter will suit up for political runs.