Why is Tim Tebow so polarizing? I am not an avid NFL fan (love the competition), but the news and discussions that emanate from league play paint a pretty clear picture of what people think of this guy. Living in San Diego, there might be a suggestion that the team for which he plays gets my attention because of its “rivalry” with the Chargers. I couldn’t care less about that. I follow a lot of sports stories, mainly those that have a good narrative, might have some cultural value, or I might just like certain players or teams because that’s how sports works.
Tim Tebow was an exceptional college quarterback. Those of us who know a little college and pro football history and likewise have even a tenuous grasp of the style each version plays (college vs. pro), know the difficulty a quarterback often faces going from jv to varsity. For instance, many college offenses include a very mobile quarterback, unlike the pro style where that position generally maintains a strong pocket presence, i.e., stays in the pocket ala Dan Marino or Dan Fouts. We could get all caught-up in the nature of this distinction, but in the end, the archetypal NFL quarterback is Tom Brady. The classic mobile college quarterback gone pro is Tim Tebow or Michael Vick (to keep things relatively recent).
This recent run of Tim Tebow (he quarterbacked a few games in 2010) has been very entertaining. In 2010 he had some success (“flashes” might be accurate) engineering the Broncos to a few victories. During this past off-season, however, he lost his chance at captaining the Broncos for 2011. There was a coaching change (John Fox took over and it’s worth noting he is a fairly conservative coach) and John Elway took the reigns in the front office, in some executive capacity; Elway, though many would consider one of the great classic NFL QBs, wreaked havoc on defenses throughout his career because of his ability to run. Despite Tebow showing signs of success in 2010 (along with two college national championships and a Heisman trophy), he had to compete for the 2011 job. That’s understandable given said history of the sports. To make a terribly long, boring story short, entering 2011 Tebow was 3rd on the Broncos’ depth chart.
This is a lot of background information on the 2011 Tebow show. One last point, from which we look to spring into critical discourse momentarily, concerns the competition for this 2011 job. He went from 1st to 3rd, essentially. And the commentary surrounding this fall from grace revolved around his unconventional NFL QB style. That was the easy talking-point for talking-heads. “His style explains this change of direction at QB for the Broncos,” or the ever popular “Tebow is just not cut-out to be an NFL QB; hell, look at him play.” As the story goes, Tebow eventually got a shot to start this year and to make another long story short, he is 4-1 and the consensus under-dog Broncos are inching closer toward winning their division.
The criticism of this guy has been unbelievable, despite his 2011 success. I want to venture a guess at why some talking heads are so critical of the guy. Understandably, there are those who support Tebow. Most Bronco fans probably love him, but I would bet money many of those fans are at the edge of their proverbial seat ready to jump from the band-wagon should he have a bad stretch. None the less, there are fans.
But the critics are hating on this guy; some, like Cris Carter, retired NFL wide receiver, refuse to even acknowledge Tebow as a topic of NFL conversation. He has, in the midst of this 2011 season, become a laughing stock. Tebow is a devout Christian. He wears this devotion on his sleeve. His parents are missionaries. Going back to when he first made the air-waves at the University of Florida, he has always talked selflessly about his faith, his commitment to the team and to winning, to working hard and to generally doing the right thing. He’s been moved to tears by his commitment to team and leadership. The guy, by almost anyone’s account, is decent, humble and honest, especially in the context of your typical overpaid professional athlete.
Why, then, the mean-spirited criticism? Why is he so polarizing? We know why people might like him. Actually, there are several reasons why. The harsh criticism just seems unwarranted. So many athletes and other celebrities have been masterful at becoming douche-bags by the crap they’ve pulled. What is so wrong with Tim Tebow? You have to take my word for it if you haven’t heard the trash talk. What has gotten into these windbags?
Here’s my theory: Tebow represents an ordinary guy and in a certain way that scares people who create topics and story-lines. Granted, there are certain qualities in Tebow that naturally rub some people the wrong way, but these people don’t or shouldn’t have a national television or radio audience. People at home, sitting on their couch might hate the guy’s pure image. They might despise is faith, especially the outspokenness of it. A lot of people distrust a guy who looks and sounds so true to his word, so “good,” self-less, etc. Given the number of people who have let us down, betrayed our trust, committed to the way of the douche-bag, this distrust is understandable. But we can isolate this guy and see that he’s been this way for about 5 years or so, and he’s just trying to do the right thing, seemingly pray and play football. We don’t have to root for the guy, but is it ok to bash the guy like this?
Again, I think he scares people. First of all, he is very unconventional. “Experts” rattle on about his throwing mechanics. They may as well just say “He sucks” because that’s the gist of their skills analysis. I think such unconventionality scares people. We all know change is not always welcome; put Tebow in that category. But I’ll just use this comparison to highlight the irrationality of the industry’s Tebow vitriol: what is the difference between Michael Vick and Tim Tebow? And what is the difference between Tom Brady and Tim Tebow?
My theory is that many a talking head in sports media (and fans for that matter) would prefer to talk about stars in terms of some kind of super-natural ability. If we can view these athletes as these sort of out-of-this-world talents, it’s a better story. We can push the mythology of the hero or villain. But either way, the athletes are very much different from us. I think this is a big part of the narratives that get written by the media. Since we’re talking about the NFL, this is very much a league of otherworldly athletes, some might even call freaks. These are giants that do massive battle on the gridiron. It’s so much more of a spectacle if we experience that not-of-this-world objectivity.
I don’t think Michael Vick’s talent is that much more pronounced than Tim Tebow’s. There was criticism of Vick before we found out he killed dogs, but nothing like that of Tebow’s. He is unconventional like Tebow. But still he was the definitive franchise QB. He hasn’t done squat in the NFL. Then we found-out he killed dogs. Then he went to prison. Now he’s signed a contract that could pay him over $100 million dollars. If you think these kinds of recognitions are based strictly on performance, separate from how the media portrays a player, you’re fooling yourself. In the end, Michael Vick is back in our good graces, as defined by how the NFL “views” him. Tim Tebow has not been in the league’s good graces.
Tom Brady is another classic “good guy” like Vick although Vick had to overcome his conflict, but he’s apparently redeemed himself quite adequately. Brady is you’re all-American QB. He’s in the traditional NFL QB mode. And he’s won Super Bowls. Can you relate to him? He was a back-up at Michigan, came into the league a back-up and then got a chance to play (like Tebow). The rest is history. Can you relate to this guy? Hell no. He’s been turned into a literal model of perfection. In fact, he is a model, posing here and there, married to one of the most beautiful international models in the world. You can’t touch that guy. Just like you can’t touch Vick. These guys are, in effect, untouchable. That’s what the league and popular media say.
Tebow is too close to home. He’s a guy that works hard. He talks honestly about team-work and effort and the blessing of the opportunity to play and win. He has a relationship with Jesus Christ. And he might even be a little awkward out there on the field (like he is talking about his faith – for some – behind the mic). He might not have the perfect mechanics. He might run more than a few broken plays in which he carries the ball, rumbling over defenders due to his desire to win and his 240 lbs frame. It’s unconventional. It might not seem very polished, or “professional.” But he’s working his ass off.
I am just sick of hearing about how this guy is bad for the league (and by extension, our community). That’s the argument. You might say it’s a talking point to stir-up debate. I have been listening for too long to fall for that. Commentators are making jack asses of themselves talking about how this guy will eventually fail, how his luck is running-out, his time is coming. Give the guy credit for just working hard and looking and acting like he’s supposed to (not how GQ supposes him to look).
For me, he’s inspiring because, by god, I can relate to him. Perhaps this inspires me to work a little harder. For the dip-shit announcer who says Tebow’s hopes are dim, this says way too much about that talking-heads’ self-image. For many, it’s a much better world if our models are out of reach. That way we have an excuse to underachieve.