‘Tebowing’: The Origin and Development Into A Full-Blown Meme

In about a week’s time, “Tebowing” has become the Internet’s most popular and controversial meme. Creator Jared Kleinstein tells me how it got started, and what it means to him.

Most every person who has ever walked out of a bar, dropped to one knee and perched his or her head on a closed fist while they solemnly looked toward the sidewalk has been – faintly, at the very least – hoping their life will somehow change. Or they’re about to vomit, I guess. Jared Kleinstein was an exception on both counts a couple of Sundays ago when he walked out of a New York bar after his Denver Broncos had snagged a wild overtime victory. Kleinstein is a Colorado transplant and avid Denver sports fan who was impressed by a more-than-adequate late game performance by the team’s often criticized starting quarterback, Tim Tebow.

Kleinstein got some of his friends together, all clad in Denver gear, and they mimicked the pose Tebow had made on the sidelines in the moments after the game’s end. The quarterback was on one knee, apparently thanking God for helping him and his boys score more points than the Miami Dolphins. He did this while the rest of the teammates were celebrating in more traditional ways, like dumping Gatorade on each other, hugging and (probably) screaming obscenities.

A picture was taken, then uploaded to Facebook, and an Internet meme was spawned. Kleinstein calls it “Tebowing.” His definition: “To get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.” If you’ve followed Tebow since his college days with the Florida Gators, you know he prays enough in public places to make your typical pious Christian look like a heretic.

'Tebowing': The Origin and Development Into A Full-Blown Meme

The inaugural "Tebowing" photograph, from Tebowing.com

There were absolutely no hopes or expectations when the picture was taken, Kleinstein says. He’s just the guy who plays role of innovator among his group of friends. “I have a reputation for always coming up with absurd ideas, and this one turned into something I obviously hadn’t thought it would,” he says to me during a phone conversation on Monday, the day Tebowing turned a week and a day old. (He does have ideas. He shared with me one for a food bowl-based invention that I am hesitant to print here, because it really is promising, and not at all absurd. I don’t want to blow up his spot, even if he doesn’t yet have a design or patent.)

People loved the photograph, and began imitating it, so Kleinstein set up a Tumblr account the Monday after the game (Oct. 23), and purchased the domain name Tebowing.com from GoDaddy.com the next day.

The site’s visitor stats have been growing exponentially since. The day Kleinstein set it up, it got 785 hits, and it reached the thousands the next day. On the third, it hit 390,000 unique visitors. He says that as of Thursday afternoon, it’s up to more than a million unique, and 6.5 million cumulative views, a number to which I’ve made a significant contribution.

The day he bought the domain name, Kleinstein walked into his day job at StreetEasy, a New York realty website, and joked with his boss that everyone would soon be Tebowing.

I showed him what it was, and he was like ‘Oh, yeah, I bet that’s gonna take off,’ Kleinstein says. “I told him my website would beat out StreetEasy’s visitor numbers, and then eventually it did.”

Tebowing.com is a relatively bare bones website, comprised mostly of photographs others have emailed him – when we spoke, Kleinstein was sifting through more than 5,000 submissions, trying to select the most unique (Tebowing in Isle of Skye, Scotland), the most inspirational (AmpuTebowing, Tebowing While Chemoing), and the most hilarious (so many), among others.* There’s a sidebar where you can purchase Tebowing apparel, and above that is Kleinstein’s definition of Tebowing: “To get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.”

Tebowing was initially a mostly vapid and meaningless entity people have decided to take seriously – in this way it is like Kim Kardashian – and add meaning to. It has become a more controversial version of Planking or Owling, due mostly to its theistic implications and the fact it is based on a guy who has become one of the most-hated quarterbacks in the NFL, at least partially for his outspoken religious beliefs. Many people take exception to a person praying vehemently about sports, unless it’s prayers for safety of the participants. This is why Tebowing has taken on more meaning than Planking. Everyone seems to have an opinion about Planking, but I haven’t come across an instance where that opinion was formed because of religion. And people love arguing about religion.

Some plank in admiration of Tebow and/or God, to laude him or Him, and others do it to mock him or Him, including two Detroit Lions, who thoroughly dismantled the Broncos Oct. 30. These men were mocking him, not Him, for the record. Some do it because it’s simply fun and a welcome alternative to taking your own shirtless photograph with the aid of a restroom mirror. Kleinstein was attempting to honor Tebow. He says he didn’t mean it to be a religious thing at all, that he was just honoring an athlete he digs, but he doesn’t have an issue with people tying religion into it. He said in an interview with Wall Street Journal that Tebowing is inherently nondenominational, and he told me people can have it mean whatever they want it to mean.

This is as much a testament to the power of social media as I can think of, and I’m not the kind of person who thought that before,” he says. “It’s amazing to me that you can do something with no specific affiliation except to one football player, but when you allow interpretation you’ve created a thing where someone can add a gesture to it and then they bring multiple meanings together.”

Tebow has endorsed the meme, especially the prayerful aspect of it. A tweet he wrote about it last week reads, “#Tebowing – to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different. Love it!” He has commented further since, saying he looks at it as a blessing to be an example of prayer. Tebow said in a press conference that a young kid sent a picture of himself Tebowing in hospital while he was undergoing chemotherapy treatment. The kid said he was “Tebowing while Chemoing.”

“How cool is that? That’s worth it right there. If that gives him any encouragement or puts a smile on his face,” Tebow says.

Kleinstein says a portion of the proceeds made from the Tebow-related T-shirts, hoodies, baby bibs and other items sold on the website will be donated to the Tim Tebow Foundation.

*NOTE: I wanted to include links to some of my favorites, or a gallery, but technical difficulties quashed that idea. Just check out the site if you’re curious.

Scott Muska is a writer and journalist from western Pennsylvania who currently lives in coastal Maryland. When he was young, his Mom forced him to do Hooked on Phonics. This led to a love of reading a ...read more

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