Was Tim Tebow “virginity” question out of bounds?


Birmingham—I get emails all the time basically asking why the media makes such a big deal out of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

 The notes I get basically say the same thing: “Well, yeah, Tebow’s a good football player and all that, but NOBODY is that good of a person. You geeks/nerds/idiots in the media need to quit fawning all over this guy and building him up. It’s too much.”

They even have a name for this attitude. It’s called the “Tebow Backlash.”

One of my mentors in the business, Irwin Smallwood of Greensboro, N.C., taught me as a rookie that reporters should always be skeptical but never cynical. But the media in the 21st century, at least what’s left of it, is incredibly cynical when it comes to analyzing Good. We don’t trust Good. Good has let us down too many times. After years of watching the Michael Vicks of the world, it’s easier (and professionally safer) to assume that Good is just a temporary destination on the way to Bad.

But here’s the deal with Tebow and I can only speak for myself. Every time that I think I have seen the limits of Tim Tebow, the athlete and human being, he does something else to make me realize that he is a once in a generation—maybe once in a lifetime—kind of person and athlete.

Thursday at SEC Media Days was a perfect example. I had a chance to spend some time with Tebow when we videotaped an interview for “Talkin’ Football” on CSS. Tebow was asked if the 2009 season, his last as a college football player, was one where anything less than an undefeated national championship would be considered a disappointment.

“Not at all. Would we like to win the SEC again? Absolutely. Would we like to win all of our games? You bet,” Tebow said. “Would we like to get another shot to play for the national championship? Of course. But this season is not going to be a failure if we don’t finish No. 1. This is about all of us getting close as a team and some of us enjoying our final season together.”

Sounds like a pretty healthy attitude.

Tebow’s personal ministry has taken him to a number of prisons over the years. But on Thursday he talked about a recent visit to Death Row. These were some of the worst for the worst. But Tebow went anyway.

“Think about that,” said Florida coach Urban Meyer. “Does it get any tougher than that? How many of us could look those men in the eye? And he does it because he wants to help. It was what he was put here to do.”

After our talk Tebow again showed why he is different than any other athlete I’ve covered. In a large interview room he was asked a totally inappropriate question—whether or not he is still a virgin (I am not going to mention the person’s name who asked the question or his website. It’s out there if you really want it).

 Tebow was within his rights to get up and walk out of the room. He was within his rights to tell the questioner that it was none of his damned business. Instead he said “Yes, I am.” The reporters in the room—at least the ones with integrity—were clearly uncomfortable at the line of questioning. Tebow laughed and put them at ease.

He took a situation where a “reporter” was clearly out of line and made light of it. It was a move few us could have made so deftly.

Look, I’m a big boy. This is the SEC and it’s a tough, competitive situation. And if you have to compete against Tebow there is only so much you can like the guy. I get that.

But I also get this. Tebow has a chance to finish his football career with three national championships, three SEC championships, and two Heisman Trophies. Are the odds against that? Of course. But if he pulls it off, you have to start talking about Tebow as perhaps the greatest college football player of all time.

And he’s done it all with a level of commitment to something bigger than football that we have rarely seen. When it comes to his faith, he has talked the talk and then he has walked the walk. To him, the slings and arrows from the cynics are worth it because the media exposure—good and bad—gives him a platform to talk about the more important things in his life.

So I, for one, am not going to spend a lot of time waiting for the other shoe to drop when it comes to Tim Tebow. I’m going to enjoy his final season at Florida, regardless of how it turns out. Because after he’s gone, we probably won’t see another one like him for a long, long time. If ever.

The guy is good. Really good.  And we are all going to have to get comfortable with that.


Programming note: Bob Neal, Mark Schlabach, Sandra Golden and I will do our final CSS “Talkin’ Football” show from SEC Media Days today at 6 p.m., Eastern time. Among the coaches  scheduled to appear are Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin, LSU’s Les Miles, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, and Auburn’s Gene Chizik. Please join us.


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204 comments Add your comment

Chris Ideker

July 24th, 2009
8:18 am

Look, I bleed orange and white. I HATE the gators. That being said, much like Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow is what college football is all about. I love the guy. The question was horrible. It is not related to anything except someone’s weak and pathetic attempt to denigrate someone who is an outstanding college athlete and role model.


July 24th, 2009
8:25 am

Whoever asked the question should never get media credentials again anywhere.


July 24th, 2009
8:27 am

Thanks for your comments on yesterday’s press conference with Tim Tebow…..and THANK YOU for not bringing any more attention to the idiot that asked the question…it was COMPLETELY inappropriate and self-serving, which is exactly in line with the person in question. Kudos to Tim Tebow for handling it the way he did, like we would have expected anything less. I’m not a Gator fan, but I will most definitely root for Tebow wherever he goes.


July 24th, 2009
8:27 am

The moron who asked the “Virginity” question is either an idiot or an a$$hole. Anyone who invokes the Lord’s name in glory as much as Tebow is definitely not engaging in pre-marital sex. Besides, why should we care ?

Some “journalists” are more interested in trying to create news, rather than reporting the news as it happens.

As an avowed Gator Hater, good for you Tim Tebow. Carry on with your ministry….I just hope the Dawgs don’t hurt you too badly on Halloween.

Kevin Greene

July 24th, 2009
8:32 am

As an Auburn man and a Florida resident, I too am a “Gator Hater”. However, I know we are witnessing the best college football player in the past 20 years and probably in my lifetime. He is great player and leader. While I am an SEC nut, I did not miss watching any of the Gator’s games last year. I wanted to watch Tebow play.

Atlanta Gator

July 24th, 2009
8:40 am

Notwithstanding the fact the Tebow chose to answer it and handled it relatively well, the question is clearly out of bounds. Period. It has nothing to do with college football, the Gators, the SEC, sports generally, or even the source of Tebow’s inspiration and personal philosophy on life. There are some things that reporters (or, in this case, pseduo-reporter-bloggers), fans and the general public simply are not entitled to know.

Add this question to the heap of evidence of how the media contribute on a daily basis to the coarsening of popular American culture and the cheapening of American values.


July 24th, 2009
8:47 am

Couldn’t agree more. As a Dawg fan I have to admit it hurts to watch the gators win and win and win.

It hurts even more to watch both schools get “savior” QBs and then the Gators end up with the one that is the real deal. A leader and a gentleman, as opposed to a money hungry beer keg lifter.

I hope Tebow wins every game this year but one…..


July 24th, 2009
8:49 am

Thank goodness there is football players who kids can look up to. We need more Tebow type guys in this world.

Rational Citizen

July 24th, 2009
8:53 am

Tony Barnhart is a man of class and dignity. Well put Mr. Barnhart.


July 24th, 2009
8:53 am

Tony, you could not have said it better. Tebow is a man of true character. There is not a false bone in his body (unlike the person who asked the guestion…ie. Tennessee fan with no scruples), and he is a natural born leader and will be highly successful in life no matter what he does. Frankly, with so many self-serving, endulgent, and law breaking pro athletes out there, I am one (Gator fan notwithstanding) that is wishig that Tebow becomes a star in the NFL so kids finally have (probably not since Roger Staubach) a true star with real character to look up to, and who they can safely trust not to let them down. Tebow is a such a big time name in the SEC, and nationally, right now because so many of the silent majority out there who still believe in good over evil are drawn to Tebow’s true goodness and honesty. Keep up the good work, and keep spreading the love, Tim Tebow. You know what gives people the best reward in life…helping and giving to others.


July 24th, 2009
8:54 am

The question was totally inappropriate; but only indicative of the media fascination with Tebow. Should the #1 question at the SEC Media Days in Hoover really be “Who didn’t vote for Tebow?” Every media outlet and site has obssessed on that question! Also, if Stafford had had Tebow’s attitude instead of passing out drunk in the infield at Talladega maybe the Dawgs could have lived up to their #1 ranking last year. THWG

Gville dawg

July 24th, 2009
8:58 am

Tony, maybe this question was supposed to be asked to further the testimony and witness to our kids that doing things the right way can be cool too. BTW, It is tough being a dawg in Gainesville (Fl) and local folks are already pationing the Vatican for sainthood for Tim.


July 24th, 2009
9:00 am

Atlanta Gator, your second paragraph is, in particular, well said and written. You obviously received a great education somewhere.

[...] game from Jacksonville.Tony Barnhart isn’t even mentioning Clay Travis by name… that’s how far out of bounds he thinks the internet funnyman stepped in asking about Tebow’s virginity.  Like everyone [...]


July 24th, 2009
9:03 am

Clay Travis

May he NEVER receive press credentials again.

What a …, I won’t say it


July 24th, 2009
9:05 am

I just knew as aoon as I read Tony’s article that there would be some blog commenters who would criticize Tim Tebow for something (although I couldn’t imagine on what grounds). There is ALWAYS somebody like that. How refreshing to see that I was wrong – so far. Tebow is a class act, as classy as they come. I look forward to follow his career (and life) for a long time.


July 24th, 2009
9:06 am

As so many others have stated, I am a Volunteer through and through. As such, I used to keep looking for reasons to really not like Tim Tebow, but this guy is the real deal. He’s a good player who focuses on the team, not himself. He’s an outstanding leader. He’s active in his community and around the world (and not for the PR hype). He can handle situations with finesse that most 30 and 40 year olds haven’t figured out. At this point, any slip up wouldn’t cause me to say “I told you there was something not to like” it would just show me he’s actually human (and probably make me like him even more).


July 24th, 2009
9:12 am

Seriously, that question was asked? Just another attempt at the media fishing for something to print. I am, as most posting, NOT a Gator fan. However, I am extremely impressed with the poise that Tebow has shown over the last few years. He was obviously raised right by his parents. His demeanor, courage, and all around goodness is something that sport hasn’t seen in a long time. It will probably be a long time until it’s seen again. I hope Tebow has a successful season and proves all the cynics wrong. There is now a (soon to be) professional athlete that my son can look up to.


July 24th, 2009
9:19 am

I can not say anything Chris Ideker, SimpleDawg and Atlanta Gator have not said above.

Tony great article and you are rare in today’s cheapening values and reporters looking to make news rather than report it. We need more like you and not just in sports.

bob dobbes

July 24th, 2009
9:20 am

For anyone else, that question would have been out of bounds.

For someone like Tebow, who wears his religion on his sleeve and uses football as an opportunity to speak about his faith, the question was totally appropriate. Tebow handled it with grace and aplomb, and it was no big deal.

In context, the question was “Do you practice what you preach?”


July 24th, 2009
9:21 am

That question was way out of line if you ask me. Just think of the uproar if, say, the Gymnastics team was being interviewed and someone asked one of those girls if they were a virgin. All hell would break loose.

Guy Necologist

July 24th, 2009
9:25 am

Michael Vick still has Herpes.

With all the fornication he enjoyed with other men while in prison, he probably has much worse now.


July 24th, 2009
9:27 am

Finally, some comments worth reading without the cynics. Tebow is a remarkable young man with talent, demanor and drive that most grown men wish they had today. Tony, you’re right we are witnessing a once in the liftetime player that I think in decades to come we’ll be speaking of Tebow on the same level as we talk about Dodd, Heisman and Doak Walker today. Call me crazy… but how many young men say that one of the reasons he came back for his senior year is because he’s recognized the impact a bible verse on eye black has on millions of fans.

Atlaub Fan

July 24th, 2009
9:27 am

What a terrible thing to say by that reporter. That guy and whoever put the secret camera in Erin Andrews room have no respect for anyone.


July 24th, 2009
9:28 am

The question was totally inappropriate. The SEC should sanction the person who asked the question. If Mike Slive is going to hold the coaches’ feet to the fire regarding media relations, he should hold members of the media to similar standards.

But I’m glad Tebow chose to answer it. In an era when a startling number of college football players have already fathered children, it’s refreshing to hear one of the best players admit that he has followed the teachings of his faith. One can only hope that some of the high school players coming up through the ranks will hear this and alter their behavior to emulate Tebow.

[...] Tony Barnhart of the AJC examines whether the question about Tim Tebow’s virginity was out of bounds. [...]


July 24th, 2009
9:29 am

I will be glad when lsu and uga beat florida this season so that the tebow talk dwindles down some…..getting really, really, old……..I mean i got tired of all the pollack talk even though i loved the player that he was..


July 24th, 2009
9:30 am

Another Dawg fan with nothing but respect for Tim. As much as I hate the Gators, Tebow embodies the spirit of college football.

I hope to see an epic contest in JAX this year.

Ali Akbar Allah

July 24th, 2009
9:31 am

Tony, Are you still a virgin?


July 24th, 2009
9:31 am

I bleed red and black. Like Hitler in the dubbed over utube video last year, I really like that guy (Tebow). I can’t help myself. He is the real item. The kid is just so incredibly sincere and genuine in interviews.

But the interview with Urban Meyer on Talking Football? He was asked ‘Tim has won two national titles and a Heisman. What more can he accomplish’? Meyer seemed aghast and said that ‘only yesterday 18 felons offered up to witness for Jesus after Tim spoke to the prisoners’. As if it was an amazing accomplishment. The laying hands stuff gets to be a bit much by Coach Meyer.
If Tebow behaved the same way but was Jewish or Muslim, would the reaction be similar?

Really Can't Stand the Gators

July 24th, 2009
9:33 am

Tebow is a young man of honor and candor. He has repeatedly stated that he is a young man of Christian values and has shown that he upholds those values through the works that he has been documented doing. But while the question was mildly embarrassing, it was in-line with the core beliefs that he has stated that he holds. I believe he answered it truthfully and now it doesn’t have to be asked again. While I’m a die-hard Dawg fan, I glad that my prodigal Gator-fan son has someone like Tebow to admire.


July 24th, 2009
9:34 am

Look I agree that Tim Tebow is a great player and individual. I also agree that the person who asked him about his sex life was out of line. I think he does wonderful mission work and since I profess to be a Christian, I think he is a shining example of our faith. Where am I going, only here. He handled the ignoramus reporter well. But he better get used to reporters and so-called reporters asking him ugly, awful questions. Tim, get ready for your life to be spread over the tabloids with you being the father of an alien baby. It will get much worse. And I for one do not think he is sinnless, just forgiven. Good luck in the Heisman race Tim, I hope you win enough games to win that, but I would rather the Dawgs win the SEC east. I wish you a sucessful career in whatever you decide to do after college.

Kid Ray

July 24th, 2009
9:41 am

TB – 650 media…900 media at the SEC…How many are “real” journalists (i.e. college degrees in Journalism or English) and how many are “bloggers” still living in moms basement?

Go Rutgers!


July 24th, 2009
9:41 am

I’ll have to disagree with Tony and most of the commenters, as well as all the “media” sources I’ve read, that take objection to the question Tebow was asked. First, he was not asked if he was a “virgin.” If you have not heard the audio of the question I would encourage you to do so. The reporter linked the question to Tebow’s faith, which has been the focus of countless interviews (including the current SI story).

The reality is that for all the stories of him speaking at a prison it may possibly be his answer to this question that makes many people, specifically young people, take notice of his faith in Christ. Spending time sharing his faith at a prison is a time commitment, but “saving himself for marriage” (as the question was posed) is a lifestyle that requires a higher level of devotion and reflects his relationship with Christ.

I am glad the question was asked in the forum it was, glad it has gotten the publicity it has and hopeful that more Christians would be bold enough to welcome questions that reveal their true beliefs.


July 24th, 2009
9:41 am

I am a Seminole fan, went to Florida State and hate the Gators. That said, Tim Tebow seems like a really good kid and whoever asked that question is a complete jerk.

I am also impressed that despite all of his success his head is still on straight. He not only talks the Christian talk but he lives out its ideals.

I hope that his last year is a good one (except against my ‘Noles!) and I’ll be happy to see him head off to the NFL! :)


July 24th, 2009
9:45 am

I love Georgia and wish Tim Tebow would hurry up and graduate,he is a great young man.I hope my son would grow up and have his values and work ethic.The question was clearly out of line.The reporter should worry about being struck by lightning or swept away by a tornado sometime soon.


July 24th, 2009
9:47 am

Tim Tebow played high school football at a school that he did not attend in an area where he lived out of district. He was home-schooled. His dad used money from his missions and Nease high booster money to rent him an apartment in Nease’s district. That is very deceptive and Jesus would not do it. Ask the high school coaches around Jacksonville about when Tebow was a sophomore in high school and how him and his dad went around to the different schools in the area saying, “My son will play for you, if, we run the offense this way.” After St. Augustine high beat them in the playoffs his junior year, he refused to shake hands with the opposition. I was there. It was kind of like when he chomped in the DB’s face that picked him off in the championship game against Oklahoma. This guy is not a role model. He is a grown man that publicly cries (just like Urban Meyer). He is a virgin because he is gay. (See his make out session with Tony Joiner in ‘07).


July 24th, 2009
9:49 am

Living in Jacksonville, we get more coverage of Tebow than anywhere, and I’ve heard several of his interviews on local sports-talk radio, and I’m always amazed at his humility and sincere concern/care for his fellow man. He spoke yesterday about how while he loves football and is passionate about it, it doesn’t define who he is as a person. When asked about how he deals with all the pressure of his position and the expectations of this season, he basically said, “I play a game, pressure is not knowing how your’re going to feed your family, pressure is being a solider in combat in Iraq, pressure is being an orphan in a third world country without a place to call home, again I’m just playing a game, and while I’m a competitior and passionate about what I do on the field, at the end of the day I’m still just playing a game, so no real pressure.” not the exact letter for letter quote, but that is pretty close to what he said.

I’m a life long dawg fan who was born and raised in Athens, and as big a dawg fan as anyone, and living in Jax, can’t stand all of the gator hype, however from everything I’ve seen and heard about him, he truly appears to be the real deal. He’s a great role model and more importantly a great christian and makes no apologies for being one. Unfortunately we live in a society where christians who are vocal about their faith are looked at with a microscope, and have people just waiting and hoping for a slip up from them so they can label them a “hypocrite”. It’s not an easy thing to do these days. When you consider his popularity and being a “big man on campus” from day one, the amount of temptation that must be thrown his way, and the advent of camera/video phones ready to capture the slightest transgression (see Stafford holding the keg), it’s amazing to me that he has never put himself in a compromising position. He walks the talk.

That being said, I will be pulling for the dawgs to beat him and the gators this year, and for obvious reasons can’t pull for him (or any gator for that matter) on the football field. However as a fellow christian I’m pulling for him as a person and hope he continues to inspire and encourage people wherever his path takes him.

Captain Sarcasm

July 24th, 2009
9:52 am

That unscrupulous Clay Travis!! How dare he ask a question to which the entire press corps wanted an answer?

How dare he provide a platform for a concrete example of Tim Tebow’s faith; inspiring fans (me included) and press alike?

Do yourself a favor and read Travis’ recent entry regarding Erin Andrews; he is a talented writer who lays bare an ugly theme in sport and society.

C’mon MCF, just because your medium is no longer held hostage by cigar-chomping editors, don’t hate on web media who can actually engage in some daring, if controversial, journalism.


July 24th, 2009
9:52 am

Steve’s comments above take the prize as most asinine post of the week…and on this blog, that’s saying something.


July 24th, 2009
9:54 am

The “Tebow Backlash” reminds me of the Peyton Manning backlash. Both class acts, but both became a bit of a victim of their success. That backlash cost Manning the Heisman Trophy…I hope that isn’t the case with Tebow. And I am disappointed in Clay Travis. I used to read his columns and I have read his book, and he is usually funny and smart. Perhaps he is wanting the attention such a question would invariably bring.


July 24th, 2009
9:59 am

Tim Tebow is a guy we can all respect. It will be interesting to see the media reaction when he succumbs to temptation or does something that can be characterized as a fault or wrong. If you think the media frenzy is something to behold now, wait til he “sins”. Keep in mind that he is a man, not a saint. (unless drafted by New Orleans)


July 24th, 2009
10:00 am

I feel fortunate to have been witness to Herschel Walker for the pups and Tebow for the Gators. Prior to TT, Herschel was the best college football player on offense that I’ve seen. Will reserve judgement until after this season on whether Tebow ends up ahead of Walker. Both special, special players and people.


July 24th, 2009
10:01 am

Thank you Tony for that column and the way you wrote it……and to you and the previous posters yea,yes and more yes….. there is one other point, this was a BAD bad question, he was too lazy to get new bad material, this subject was covered with Jay Barker and Danny Weurfell long ago. It is old and still tasteless.


July 24th, 2009
10:02 am

Tony Barhart, thank you for “getting it right” about Tim Tebow. You have brought out not only the ‘good in Tim Tebow’ but also ‘the good in so many of your readers’.

There are far too many in our society who do not value ‘good’ any longer. We now live in a time when ‘good is called bad’ and ‘bad is called good’.

Tony, I have moved from being a ‘fan of Mr. College Football’ to being an admirer of ‘Tony Barnhart, man of character and principles’. You have said today what so many have been waiting to hear. I for one–and I trust many others–admire your courage to publicly call ‘good good’ and ‘bad bad’. And there’s nothing relative about the terms.

God Bless you.

Voice of Reason

July 24th, 2009
10:02 am

As much as I have tried to dislike Tebow, there is really just no way to. He makes it impossible to hate him and, as a dawg fan, that is the only reason you can have to, because he makes it impossible. That said, to the person who previously said that they hope Tebow “becomes a star in the NFL so kids finally have (probably not since Roger Staubach) a true star with real character to look up to, and who they can safely trust not to let them down”, I must remind you that they have one of those now in Peyton Manning, yet I agree that it would be great to have more like Manning AND Tebow. As a colts fan as well, I would like to see us draft Tebow so that Peyton can teach him “how to be an NFL QB”, which so mnay people think he will not be able to do. Who better to learn from?


July 24th, 2009
10:06 am

Great job Tony. God bless Tebow for doing whats right, what a guy.


July 24th, 2009
10:07 am

If there were no press and no money to be made from it I believe he would still be doing what he’s doing. Yes by default that means he is a good person. I’m not sure why anyone would even ask the virginity question. It would be more relevant to ask what he is doing to become a more NFL ready QB.

[...] Barnhart writes, “After our talk Tebow again showed why he is different than any other athlete I’ve covered. In a large interview room he was asked a totally inappropriate question—whether or not he is still a virgin (I am not going to mention the person’s name who asked the question or his website. It’s out there if you really want it).” [...]


July 24th, 2009
10:07 am

i’m a dawg fan, but a follow of Jesus first..I’m glad he has chosen to use his platform to preach the gospel..I’d serve with tim anytime…I do hope the dawgs whip em though