As the NFL season moves quickly toward its climax, two quarterbacks find themselves in especially bright spotlights for different reasons.
Tim Tebow, who began the year on the Denver Broncos’ bench, has drawn intense media attention from his college championship days at Florida, when he became the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman Trophy and the next year led his team to a national championship. But his public professions of Christian faith and his off-field missionary work often overshadowed his incredible on-field performances.
The son of Baptist missionaries, Tebow never misses a chance to express his faith — and since he was promoted to the Broncos’ starting QB post, he’s had many chances. Despite putting up mediocre statistics, he’s now led his team to six straight comeback wins that make him a media darling. Give him ten seconds in front of a camera, and there’s no ignoring his Christian faith. Frankly, in what has become a very secular culture, we find Tebow’s consistent and very public profession of his faith refreshing. But some people, even Christians, are put off by it.
Meanwhile, as of Dec. 11, QB Aaron Rodgers had led the Green Bay Packers to 19 consecutive wins, climaxed by a Super Bowl championship last year and a 13-0 record this year. As a result, he’s getting almost as much media attention as Tebow. But he doesn’t mention his faith much, and so the topic has seldom come up.
One instance where he did talk about it was in an Athletes in Action article in October, 2010, drawing on the wisdom we often reference from a favorite saint. He revisited that perspective right after Thanksgiving when asked about it by Jason Wilde on his weekly ESPN Milwaukee radio segment. Here’s a portion of what Rodgers said:
“I feel like my stance and my desire has always been to follow a quote from St. Francis of Assisi, who said, ‘Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.’ So basically, I’m not an over-the-top, or an in-your-face kind of guy with my faith. I would rather people have questions about why I act the way I act, whether they view it as positive or not, and ask questions, and then given an opportunity at some point, then you can talk about your faith a little bit. I firmly believe, just personally, what works for me and what I enjoy doing is letting my actions speak about the kind of character that I want to have, and following that quote from St. Francis.”
According to the Athletes In Action article, Rodgers decided to dedicate his life to living for Christ when he was 16, but the roots of his convictions were planted much earlier. “I grew up knowing what a stable relationship was by my parents’ example and how it centered on Christ,” he said, “When our family had its ups and downs, I knew my parents relied on God for everything and He always got us through those rough spots.”
Rodgers is known in the Green Bay community and throughout Wisconsin as a tireless friend to many kids in need, but the news generally circulates word of mouth because he’d rather keep a low profile and involve teammates so the media spotlight is not on him.
Nevertheless, word gets around. When he had occasion to sign a ball for a 20-year-old man who had been battling cancer for eight years, instead of writing “best wishes” or something like that, he chose the words: “Brandon, thanks for being an inspiration to me.” No one who knows Rodgers doubts his sincerity. He really is a man for others.
Typical of the small but thoughtful things he does is keep track of the birthdays of everyone he knows, including all of his teammates. When someone else brings up the subject, he says he’s mindful of how it would feel for a teammate to spend the whole day with about 60 guys and have no one acknowledge his birthday. “I think that would be a little disappointing,” he observes. Convinced no one should have to be that guy, he makes a point of not letting a single birthday slip by.
In his ESPN radio interview, he talked about the importance of relationships in effective leadership. “I think there’s a few things you can do as a leader that really make people feel a connection. As a leader you need to have a relationship with the guys you’re leading, and it needs to be different for each player,” he says.
“There has to be some sort of one-on-one connection and there’s a number of ways you can do that. I think that by remembering somebody’s birthday, you can do it. By giving someone a nickname is a way to do it, by having an inside joke with someone is a way to do it. That changes the relationship from a teammate relationship to a friend relationship, and I think there has to be that friend connection in order to become better teammates.”
And it’s not just about winning. One interviewer asked him if he still has the cell numbers of the receivers on his Pleasant Valley High School football team. “Of course,” he replied. One of those receivers, Dane Baxter, recalls playing with Rodgers. “The last game I played he threw me a touchdown pass and it was the only touchdown I scored. He was happy for me. That’s the thing: He was happy for me.”
Here at the Yeshua Institute, we teach that “effective leadership is not self-serving leadership, and it’s not about structure, it’s about relationships.” Rodgers obviously discovered that a long time ago. With the focus today on building better teams in organizations of all kinds and sizes, leaders can learn a lot from the young but very successful quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.
We also appreciate Tebow too — because without his very public approach to living his faith, Rodgers’ devotion to following the advice of St. Francis might have slipped completely below our radar.