Tim Tebow on Football Future, Feeling 'So Blessed'

An interview with the most polarizing figure in football who might never play again

Tim Tebow on ESPN Credit: Scott Halleran/Getty

Tim Tebow may be the most polarizing football player in America despite the fact that he hasn't appeared in an NFL game for four years. Lots of people love to hate the guy while many others adore him, and the powerful emotions he elicits are typically traced back to his earnest and outspoken evangelical zeal rather than an actual athletic feat. The reactions he still provokes in people are fascinating, and it's a testament to his charismatic personality that he remains headline fodder despite his inconsequential NFL career.

Although the NFL didn't work out for Tebow, he remains very visible to the public eye through his foundation, charity events, mission trips, and college football gig with ESPN. He's also promoting an upcoming book and the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, which honors college athletes for their community service. Tebow spoke to Rolling Stone about college football, getting cut in the NFL, handling pressure, embracing the lows in life, and a few questions about the Republican National Convention.

You said want to do something that's bringing people together, and not dividing them. And you've been all about that theme throughout your career. So I was pretty surprised when I heard you were slated to speak at the RNC, a rally for Donald Trump of all people. How did you find out you were supposed to be a speaker there?
[Laughs] Well for me that was just something [where] I woke up one morning and I found out. So yeah, it's amazing how fast sometimes rumors can travel. ... There are so many people out there that need help and support and love…

Circling back. You said you woke up one day and you found out you were expected to speak. You said rumors fly, which is true. But this wasn't an ordinary rumor. They released your name to reporters and one of Trump's kids mentioned you by name. Did you ever find out if they were they were actually planning to have you speak? Was there just a communication breakdown? Or were you not supposed to be on the list in the first place? What exactly happened
[Laughs] I don't really want to get into that. It's not important.

You mentioned role models earlier. To a lot of people, you are much more than an athlete. Many people see you as a figure that represents an ideal they admire. How have you been able to handle that attention throughout your career?
When you've been blessed with a platform I think it's an obligation to try to be a good role model for the next generation and for the kids that might look up to you. That doesn't mean that you have to be perfect, or you can't fall short. Because I think we all fail and fall short. But I do think it means that you try. I think it means that you try to help people. That you try to love people. You try to make a difference. Part of when you really get to encourage people is you also get to do that through your weaknesses and shortcomings. Because not everybody can relate to my highs, but there're a lot of people that can relate to my lows. Whether that's being told you're not good enough, or you can't do what you wanna do. A lot of people can relate to that. I think it's important to be able to share through vulnerability and through the highs and the lows, but I think people can relate a lot more to the lows.

Speaking of your lows, when most players get cut, it’s usually news for like a day. But with you, people are still talking about your release from Denver and circling petitions to get you back in the league. How do you handle that pressure of meaning so much to these people?
I think pressure is a lot about perspective. What is real pressure?

Real pressure could be to some people making it five more years in the NFL without getting cut. But I think when you are able to see a different perspective you're able to understand what real pressure is. I just got back from another mission trip to the Philippines. It's such a reminder what real pressure is. Being able to be around kids who had been thrown away from their families because their families didn't think they were worth anything because they were special needs. That's pressure.

It's pressure when they are fighting for their next meal. It's pressure when they don't know if there's anybody who loves them. Pressure is not playing a game where you score points and are trying to win a championship. Yeah, that can be pressure. But I think it's important to have a bigger perspective where we're able to really put things to their right place.

How do you keep perspective when you’re in the public eye?
It's a couple of things. It's having faith that God has a plan and he's God and I'm not. And so I’m gonna trust whatever place God puts me and make as big of an impact as I can. And number two, I’m gonna focus on doing things that matter. I’m gonna focus on a life that matters. I believe the way we do that is impacting those around us, those people who need help.

That sounds pretty inspirational. But seriously, how did you feel when you found out you were booked to speak at the RNC?
I mean, it's something that, honestly, for me what this is about is just trying to focus on the [Allstate Good Works] kids and their stories. And it's not about me and rumors and whatever people may or may have not done. That's just gonna sidetrack us. I think what's important is to focus on these young people who are out there making a difference. That's where my focus lies right now.

Are you planning on making another run at pro football?
I don't know. I think if the right opportunity presents itself, I'll never say never. But I'm so blessed doing what I'm doing with foundations and my new book and everything with the SEC and ESPN this year. I’m just grateful where I’m at and I’m excited about it.

No current pro football plans then?
No plans that I have right now.

Earlier you mentioned relating to people through discussing your "high and lows." We've seen your high points on TV. Can you talk about a low point in your life?
There're different points. Whether you're sitting on the edge of the bed and you're thinking “there're 32 [NFL] teams and nobody wants me” or “no one wants me to do what I want to do.”

Or you get another opportunity, and you don't make it. I've been cut four times. [Laughs] Well only three, but traded once, so it kind of counts as four.

But there're a lot of highs and lows. Whether it's being told you're not good enough, whether it's the voices of negativity. And how do you handle that? How do you handle when there's something you feel you're supposed to be doing, but you don't get the opportunity? There're just a lot of different things that we try to touch upon [in the book] that a lot of people have to go through.

I also think everything happens for a reason. Being able to be popular and have the run in Denver and everything in Florida. I am thankful for the platform. But I’m also grateful, not always, but a lot more now, for the lows. Because people can understand that even more. They can understand what you're going through and relate to it and hopefully that can be an encouragement to anyone who reads it.

So, since the RNC mishap, are people other than me still bugging you about it?
[Laughs] Sure, yeah. I get asked about it from time to time, yeah.

If the RNC would have been clearer and presented you a formal invite to speak, would you have entertained the offer?
[Laughs] I don't know man. I like the persistence though. That's solid. I can't fault for you that.

Anyways, college football season is approaching. Your coach Urban Meyer lost a lot of talent in last year's draft. How do you think Ohio State will fare this season?
They did lose a lot of talent, but I think they are still one of the most talented teams in the country. I think they will play a lot freer than they did last year. And they might have as much talent as the [national championship] team from two years ago. The question is, do they have the experience?

It's amazing that they could be super talented again, even though they lost so many great players. Meyer just reloads the talent each year. You were recruited by Meyer. How the hell does he recruit so well?
It's his level of care of passion. He has so much belief in his program and in you as a player that he makes his team and players believe they're great. He's able to get young people to see that if they play for him, they have a chance to accomplish something special. And I think that's why you see so many great recruits year after year go play for him.