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For Better Civil Discourse: Watch and Learn from Tim Tebow

Our civil discourse in the United States has dramatically worsened. Online name-calling, cyberstalking, harassment, cyberbullying and worse are now showing up on American streets in everyday life. With midterm elections coming soon and a new Supreme Court nominee currently being considered, some predict the situation to worsen further — both online and offline. Where can we turn for potential answers? Here’s how the controversial Tim Tebow provides a role model that can help.

Tim Tebow at press conference after signing with NY Mets Credit: Associated Press/Wilfredo Lee
“Can't we all just get along?”

Those famous words by Rodney King during the L.A. riots in May 1992 are still being asked today by millions of Americans who long for a more kind, productive civil discourse.

Recently, the heated words and actions from those on the left, right and center of politics seems to indicate that the name-calling and harmful rhetoric is getting worse — not better.

Here are some recent news media headlines to prove my point:

The National Institute for Civil Discourse

There are several excellent organizations that work hard every day to encourage more civil discourse. One helpful organization with resources to help is the National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona. The center is a nonpartisan center for advocacy, research and policy.  

They also offer several personal challenges to take action like a “7 Day Civility Challenge” and a “Pledge to Revive Civility.” They also highlight actions items for elected officials and in Congress and state legislatures.

There are also other groups like that offer suggestions under #revivecivility that offer suggested actions for campus groups. Articles from left-leaning The Huffington Post to the right-Leaning National Review also give heart-felt pleas for more civil discourse.

Nevertheless, despite forces working for positive engagement, we are seeing more confrontations both in cyberspace and real life in 2018. I believe there is no more powerful way to enhance dialog than to offer examples of where things are going right, despite obstacles. In technology projects, this means best practices that demonstrate success.

But with the lack of civil discourse, we need role models who are saying and doing things the right way. Examples of well-known people, who despite being attacked almost each and every day, continue to take the high road and not return the personal attacks. We need role models to show us what civil discourse looks like.   

Problems Require Everyday Role Models — Enter Tim Tebow

In the last media example (listed above) from York, Pa., perhaps more people could have gone down to watch, listen and learn from a minor league baseball player when their Harrisburg Senators played the Binghamton Rumble Ponies in June. Yes, I’m talking about Tim Tebow’s example.

But before I list the several ways that Tebow is a positive role model on this topic, I want to offer a quick history lesson to acknowledge that Tim Tebow is both loved and hated, cheered-for and cheered-against, respected and mocked at the same time. Whether we are talking about football or baseball, public life or private life, national TV stage or smalltown baseball field, Christian or atheist beliefs, young or old, almost everyone has an opinion of Tim Tebow.

There are different theories as to why so many people like, dislike, hate and follow Tim Tebow, but almost like royal weddings in England, people all around America are eagerly watching what happens next.

Simply stated, with the clear exception of President Donald Trump, there is no more polarizing personality in America today. Tebow is well-known and very controversial, and he may become even more so if a promotion to the New York Mets Major League Baseball team comes in September.

If he is promoted to the Major Leagues, which more and more experts now say is likely, but which most baseball experts previously said would never happen in 2016, he will become even more controversial and more people will be talking about him — with millions more calling the move a publicity stunt.

But herein lies unique opportunities to learn from Tebow (more on that below.)

Brief Tebow Sports History

Back in in 2011 when Tim Tebow was preparing for an NFL playoff game against New England, Business Insider proclaimed that Tim Tebow was the most polarizing athlete in sports.

As Tebowmania swept the country in 2011, supporters and detractors vocally proclaimed passionate viewpoints. His college and NFL career ups and downs with several teams are well documented by many sources, and you can read more about his college and NFL career here.

But when Tebow decided to switch to professional baseball, the attacks against him became even louder from many circles. Here are a few examples:

Other sports talk show experts like Cowen Cowherd openly hoped he would fail in 2017, even after some initial success in professional baseball.

Where Is the Civil Discourse Model?

So why is this story relevant to our wider political and cultural divide in America today? How can watching Tebow help those who are active on the left, center and the right of our political divide?

The answer lies in Tim Tebow’s response to his critics and approach to these often vicious attacks against, not only his ability as a baseball player, but also his motives, attitude, work ethic, openly shared religion and much more.

Here are five things that we all can learn from Tebow’s media appearances, his on-the-field and off-the-field actions as well as his overall approach to harsh criticism.

  • Tebow is authentic and builds public trust. In a time when fake news dominates and the public is trying to decide who to believe or listen to, Tim Tebow is passionate and consistent in his words.

  • Tebow stays positive and follows his dreams with humility. He doesn’t attack other people or return their negative attacks at him. He often acknowledges when he needs to improve, or when he makes mistakes. He uses humor and other positive messages to address tense topics — much like Ronald Reagan did in the 1980s.

  • Tebow perseveres at staying on message. At the same time, Tebow doesn’t let the others define him or what he stands for. He is very articulate and well-prepared for tough questions.

  • Tebow focuses on people and making lives better. He understands the wider narratives, but keeps coming back to what he can control and do to help make things better. He draws large crowds wherever he goes, because he inspires others to go further in their lives.

  • Tebow’s actions match his words. He models resilience, perseverance, not giving up, trying again, but in positive ways. He wins people over who don’t like him with his actions. His charity has impacted thousands of people around the world. The images of helping the less fortunate are much more powerful than the verbal attacks against him. In fact, his critics actually strengthen his message by drawing more attention to the positive things he does.
On this final point, remember the the often quoted line which is attributed to Gandhi but which shows he did not say: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.” Tebow does not return hate when he is laughed at, he wins people over by his kind acts.

Final Thoughts

No doubt, some readers may be wondering what any of these Tebow lessons have to do with government, politics, "fake news" or professional best practices in technology or business administration.

In my opinion, quite a bit. Both the left and the right of politics can learn to improve civil discourse by modeling Tim Tebow at his press conferences and presentations. In addition, his example goes beyond press briefings or sports promotions or even giving to charities. Whether you like what Tebow has to say or adamantly oppose his specific beliefs, his passionate messages come with a kindness and integrity that should be respected and practiced as a role model to improve our American civil discourse.

I am setting Tebow up too high? Won’t he inevitably fail to live up to these high ideals? Is a big fall coming now that he is dating Miss Universe, with even more media attention? Perhaps. Nevertheless, America needs more than just heart-felt speeches and caring public policies, we need current positive examples of civil discourse.

Who do you think has the national name-recognition, is often controversial, but is a positive role model for civil discourse?  


News update (day after initial publication, Monday, 7/23/2018) - Tim Tebow's injured his hand, and his 2018 baseball season is likely over. He will have surgery for a broken bone on 7/24/2018. The Orlando Sentinel wrote this about the overall situation. Nevertheless, I still believe that Tim Tebow remains a model of civil discourse, regardless what happens next in his professional baseball career. 


Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.