‘Tebowing’: Football Meme Goes from the Field to the Internet, and Back

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Lions Linebacker Stephen Tulloch reacts by "Tebowing" after making a sack on Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow

It started off as a humble display of respect and prayer. But has it turned into a mockery?

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow makes no secret of his religious beliefs. He thanks God in his speeches, writes Bible references on his black eye paint, and publicly kneels in prayer on the football field. And his prayer stance – one knee grounded and a prayerful bow with his elbow resting on the other knee – is a creation unique to Tebow, so unprecedented that it’s been dubbed “Tebowing.”

Its definition, according to Tebowing evangelist Jared Kleinstein, is “to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.” Prayer amid chaos would be the shorthand, modeled after Tim’s reverence despite the bone-crunching, fist-pumping action on the football field.

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And it’s become a veritable meme. Kleinstein realized the action’s power and set up Tebowing.com for people to show their prayerful moments in, well, slightly odd situations. There are photos of tebowing in an ambulance, in front of Rome’s Colosseum, and even underwater.

Though we are skeptical that the Tebowers pictured have the same level of respect for the action that its namesake does, but it’s been pictured across a range of locations, ages and situations. And Sunday, Tebowing found its way back to the source: the NFL. After sacking Tim Tebow this weekend, Detroit Lions’ linebacker Stephen Tulloch was rightfully overjoyed with his takedown. So he did the natural – he Tebowed over a fallen Tebow.

But was it a graceful, momentary gesture of humility and thanks? We’re doubtful. Tulloch likely didn’t mean to mock Tebow, but it’s clear the gesture has lost its reverence in becoming an Internet trend. Paradoxically, Tebow, the son of Christian missionaries, doesn’t seem to mind. He even tweeted his excitement that it’s become a trend. And we have to admit, it’s better than planking.

Nick Carbone is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @nickcarbone. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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