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Tebow haters don't shake QB's faith in higher calling

Comedian John Oliver starts the skit by making his ire clear: He hates Tim Tebow.

Oliver, who won an Emmy in 2009 for his work as a "Daily Show" correspondent, doesn't just dislike Tebow. He saves that designation, he says, for Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe. No, Oliver  hates  Tebow.

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"How dare you -- how dare  you -- thank God before thanking your offensive line," Oliver cracked at Florida State's homecoming in 2010. "Do you have any idea what an offensive line goes through during a game? If I was an offensive lineman for Tim Tebow, and I heard him thank God instead of thanking me at the end of the game, I'd find myself lining up for the following game and say, 'Oh Tim, I heard your press conference at the end of the game last week, great to hear Jesus get a shout-out.'

"'Wasn't he fantastic for us? Wasn't God great, especially in that fourth quarter? ... Let's see how Jesus blocks for you this time. Oh, it seems Jesus didn't read that blitz.'"

The crowd laughed because, well, plenty of people -- not just Florida State Seminoles -- would find that funny. They also cheered, something plenty of people -- not just Florida State Seminoles -- would also endorse. But why? Why do they cheer?

Why do people hate Tim Tebow?

"It really blows my mind," said Dolphins center Mike Pouncey, who spent three seasons as an offensive lineman for Tebow at the University of Florida. "You talk about a guy that's in the church, doesn't do drugs, doesn't drink alcohol, lives right, won the Heisman, won the national championship in college.

"Why do you criticize a guy like that?"

As Tebow prepares to take over as the Broncos' starter Sunday, he has become one of sports' most polarizing figures. Thousands love him to a degree rarely seen. The same, though, can be said about the degree to which a massive group also hates him.

Maybe most fascinating of all, much of it has nothing to do with football.

"Like me, Tim wears his faith on his sleeve," said former NFL quarterback and NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner, also a devout and open Christian. "I felt like there were always people who said football should be over here and faith should be over there. But that drove me. And I think it drives him."

But it couldn't just be his Christian faith that fuels the hate within his detractors, can it? Plenty of players fall to a knee or point to the sky after touchdowns. Plenty of athletes thank God at the opening of their news conferences.

It must be something more.

"Maybe people don't like the fact that he has accomplished so much," said Dolphins running back Reggie Bush, a player who has dealt with his share of detractors both on and off the field. "And maybe some people just don't think he's a good quarterback. Everyone has an opinion -- that's just the way it is. I dealt with it, especially after what happened at USC. People look for a reason to hate you. With Tebow, though, it's almost like they think it's too good to be true."

That's among the more fascinating aspects of the vitriol aimed at Tebow: He has lived a life that meets to a surreal degree the moral standards generally taught to this country's society at an early age.

Yet it seems to be those very qualities that bother people to the point that there exists a website called "" and a Facebook page dubbed "I hate Tim Tebow."

Once again, however, there remains an undertone to all of this that spins itself right back to those jokes from Oliver and the point from Warner: religion. It isn't just that Tebow lives a wholesome life. It's that he wears these qualities -- openly crediting his faith for the reasons he lives his life this way -- on his sleeve.

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"I'm going to be who I am," Tebow said Wednesday. "I'm not boisterous about it and I'm not shy or quiet about it. That's just who I am, and I will always be -- and I'll never be ashamed of it.

"If someone asks, I'll always be willing to share His will because I also know that there are a lot more important things than football and that is one of them. That ultimately overrides football any day of the week."

For many, like Warner, this is the very reason why Tebow is so respected. As Warner said Friday, "You can take off a football jersey, but you can never take off your faith. That goes with you everywhere."

But many, it seems, simply don't want to hear about it.

During a Twitter-based survey on Thursday, a contingent of users following @jeffdarlington were asked to respond to this tweet: A question for anyone who dislikes Tebow for reasons other than his ability as a QB: What is it about him that bothers you?

"What bothers me about Tebow?" tweeted Bob Dziadik under the Twitter handle @bobbyd121. "The God thing for one. He just seems like a phony."

Other responses ranged from Tebow's "holier than thou crap" to the fact that he "brings his Bible thumping nonsense anywhere he goes. It doesn't belong in sports and politics." One user said he "can't stand (Tebow)" because he "wears his religion on his sleeve too much."

Religion, of course, is always going to elicit some of the most intense debates, whether healthy and open-minded or insulting and aggressive. So in many ways, given that Tebow does indeed remain open about his faith, he is inviting such dialogue.

That, Warner says, is actually the most important part. It is the reason why Tebow will be appreciated by the thousands -- maybe millions -- of people who appreciate an athlete using such a massive platform to serve as a role model for the Christian community.

This shouldn't bother Tebow, Warner said. It should motivate him.

"I don't feel bad for him," Warner said. "That's part of the deal. You're going to be criticized. I always welcomed that. Not everyone believes what I believe. And I welcome the criticism, not because I like it, but because it means they're watching you. It presents an opportunity to share your message and share your faith."

Warner is objectively right about this much: Everyone is watching Tebow. They are watching to see how he responds to this situation as a quarterback in the NFL. And they are watching to see how he responds as a person.

As sad as it might seem, it would surely make plenty of people pleased to see him mess up in both regards. But while some continue to withhold their opinion of Tebow as a football player, those close to him will never waver when it comes to their thoughts of him as a person.

"He's genuine to the utmost degree," said Pouncey, an offensive lineman who, by the way, has heard Tebow thank God before him. "If I have a daughter someday, that's the kind of guy I want her to marry. I love him. He's a great friend of mine. I wish him the best of luck.

"And I hope he proves everyone wrong."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.

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