The best quote I’ve seen on the Tebow matter comes from a Stuart James, an Alabama fan from Virginia:
“If him (Tebow) taking a knee and thanking God after a win offends your sensibilities, or upsets you, you don’t have to watch.”
In other words, Stuart James is saying, turn the channel. Siss, boom, bang! Right back atcha baby!
When a conservative gets his nose out of joint about some TV show, a movie, or a rock star offending their sensibilities, the answer critics give is, ‘if you don’t like it, turn the channel.’ The tables are being turned, someone is acting overtly moral and outwardly spiritual, and the sports writers of America are up in arms. Turn the channel is, for some reason, not an acceptable answer to those who are upset about this travesty brought to our shores via the Rocky Mountains and through the Denver Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow. Not since Muhammad Ali decided not to fight in the Vietnam War, for religious reasons, has sports been so preoccupied by religion. This time, however, the sports writers of America are on the other side of the coin. This time, they’re the ones who are offended, this time they won’t accept the answer ‘turn the channel’, and this time they’re advocating for a separation of church and sports.
Up to a certain point in the timeline, Tebow was just another religious athlete who thanked God every time he scored a touchdown, and he was just another athlete who invoked thanks to God in post-game interviews. Tebow then took part in a Super Bowl advertisement for the Focus on the Family mega-ministry known for its conservative political advocacy. The ad was about how Tim Tebow’s mother was advised to abort Tim Tebow following a placental abruption. “The ad,” says a Wall Street Journal piece on the subject, “takes the softest possible approach to the subject and never uses the terms “abortion” or “pro-life,” but its intent was clear, and it generated controversy.” The ad portrayed how Tebow “almost didn’t make it into this world,” his mom said, and she went onto speak about how she loved Tebow. Tebow then ignited the secular world and enraged those who held the separation between church and sports sacred by saying, “Thanks mom. Love you too.”
It changed everything that ad. The word ‘controversy’ WSJ used is a soft approach to describing the reaction. Malestorm might be more appropriate. Media types were fit to be tied. No longer was Tebow just another religious athlete. He became the enemy. He had worked for a conservative advocacy group. The sports media collectively set their phasers to kill. Tebow was now “in your face” about religion according to the media. He was now “making the rest of us feel bad for our inadequacies.” He was now an inaccurate quarterback, with poor footwork, and the product of a college game that wouldn’t translate well in the NFL. In other words, he was everything a Cam Newton would be a year later with ten times the criticism. Tebow’s every weakness was exposed weekly, ad nasuem, in NFL column after NFL column. He was criticized from Seattle to Tampa and everywhere in between. Many admit that there are athletes in sports that are more religious, and there are even more religious individuals in the NFL, but somehow Tebow is different. Somehow Tebow is more “in your face” about it than Kurt Warner was a decade ago, or all the other athletes before and after that thanked their creator for giving them the talent to win games.
Steven Waite, a football fan from Brandon, Mississippi says, “We are a nation founded upon religious freedom and expression. We’re a melting pot. But instead of respecting and embracing our differences we’re becoming more and more intolerant. To me, that’s more egregious than anything Tim Tebow has done or will do. It’s sad, really.”
In other words, Americans have become more tolerant of differences based on skin color, culture, sexual proclivities, and “other” religions, but they draw the line on any religion based on the Judeo-Christian philosophy. Those religions are too puritanical and too Svengali-like in their approach to indoctrinate you into their religion. Religions based upon the Judeo-Christian philosophy need to be defeated for some reason, and there is no attempt to be tolerant of the differences in those religious types. Most Americans don’t think this way, of course, but to watch the media talk about it one would think that middle Americans are one “Tebowing” kneel away from running into the streets with pitchforks and torches.
Adds Stuart James: “All we do is complain about how we don’t have any positive role models in sports for young kids and specifically young males. It’s all Pacman Jones, Ben Roethlisberger, or Tiger Woods. The list goes on and on.”
In other words, Tim Tebow has no skeletons in his closet. He gives kids a role model, and he doesn’t shy away from the responsibility of that role in the manner a Charles Barkley did. He does charity work in the Philippines, he works with disadvantaged children, and he is a great a model of morality and decency off the field as on it.
He’s also a winner. If he weren’t a winner, we wouldn’t be paying him any attention. In High School, Tebow led his team to a 4A state championship, and he lost in the next two 4A championships in the state of Florida. He went onto lead the University of Florida to one national championship his sophomore year, and he played a key role in another in his freshman year. Tebow then became the first sophomore to win the Heisman trophy. A year after being selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft, Broncos’ coach John Fox and executive vice-president of football operations John Elway decided that they probably weren’t going anywhere by the fifth week of the season. (They were 1-4.) They decided they had nothing to lose by benching starter Kyle Orton and starting the former Heisman winner. Critics around the nation stated, for various reasons, that Tebow would never be a successful starter in the NFL.
“He struggles with accuracy,” says ESPN analyst Merrill Hoge. Boomer Esiason took his criticism one step further saying, “You’re not going to win a lot of games playing the way he does (Tebow is now 8-3 overall as an NFL starter). As much as I’d like him to be my son-in-law, I don’t want him to be my starting quarterback.” Michael Irvin also joined the group that criticized Tebow’s accuracy, and Deion Sanders said: “I’ve never seen a QB receive this much criticism. What is it about Tebow that gets people this worked up?” John Elway once said that he does not envy the rookie QB’s of the day. “With all of the complex defenses and scrutiny the rookie QB’s face today, it’s light-years away from the pressures I faced.” Anyone who knows anything about Elway’s career knows that he faced his share of criticism. He wasn’t winning in his first couple years though. Tebow is.
Some critics are stating that their criticism of Tim Tebow is purely football related. They say that his delivery is awkward, his footwork is deplorable, and his Gator game would never translate in the NFL. Jaguars rookie Blaine Gabbert and Vikings rookie Christian Ponder came from more pro-style offenses, they said, so they stand a better chance of succeeding. And Cam Newton, well, he’s just a superior athlete, and superior athletes can make it work if they show enough moxie in the NFL. A look at the current stats has Tim Tebow leading all of these rookies in QB rating with an 83.9. Cam Newton has an 81.1. Tebow is also 7-1 this season. The other three rookie QB’s have a combined record of 9-24 this season. (I know Tebow is not technically a rookie, but if he were in baseball, he would still be considered a rookie based upon his number of starts.)
Critics of the critics have stated that some critics simply hate being wrong so much that they find themselves cheering against Tebow because it makes them look bad when he succeeds. They have said that it has nothing to do with religion, the commercial, the “Tebowing” role model status, or the post-touchdown, post-game kneels. They say it’s criticism based purely on mechanics. If it’s true and it’s all about ego, and not about religion, politics, or the commercial, then these professional critics should learn a little something from two of Tebow’s (pre-7-1) harshest critics Trent Dilfer and Jimmy Johnson. ESPN’s Trent Dilfer has admitted that he’s turned into something of a convert. He says watching Tebow’s game film shows that it may be possible for a guy to progress and learn if he has the will and the work ethic to do so. Dilfer talked about the manner in which Tebow’s footwork and accuracy have improved, and he did so with video illustrations and intricate commentary. Fox’s Jimmy Johnson has turned 180 degrees on Tebow, saying that a huge part of being a QB in the NFL is being a leader, and he is “the best I have seen at bringing out the best from his teammates.”
“Here be dragons” is the best phrase I can think of to attribute to these critics. “Here be dragons” was a notation made by medieval map makers to note uncharted territories that they feared. Medieval sailors were so obsessed with dragons that they crafted the face of a dragon to put on the front of their ships to attempt to scare dragons off, if they ran into one. One has to wonder what kind of anti-religious symbols print journalists now put on their front of their Mercedes when they roll into Sports Authority Field at Mile High to cover the (for them!) uncharted territory they fear that Tim Tebow is generating with his exploits.
Like many college football fans, I had a competitive hatred for Tim Tebow. I cheered his opponents, I laughed when he cried after losses, and I turned the channel during his post-game interviews. It wasn’t an anti-religious thing for me. I’ve seen religious athletes laud God for their victories my entire life, and I never cared one way or another. I agreed with journalists who said that God doesn’t care who wins football games. I laughed when comedians say, “Why don’t athletes ever curse God for their defeats or their foibles on the field?” I didn’t care about Tebow, or his religion. I just hated the SEC teams. I just hated Florida. It had nothing to do with religion. The issue of religion and sports was basically a non-starter for me until this current media onslaught against Tebow began. It’s personal for me now. I am now a Tebow fan. I am a Broncos’ fan now. (Well, they’re my second favorite team.)
The question that enquiring minds need to know is what damage is Tebow doing in the universe? Who cares who or what he thanks for his athletic gifts? Who cares that he is “in your face” with his religion? If you’re so upset or agitated about another man expressing his religion what does that say about you and your tolerance levels? You may need to reconsider if you’re truly a tolerant person, or if you’re selectively tolerant based upon your politics. If that’s the case, and you can’t get past it, why don’t you just turn the channel?
Also, what does the current status of the Tebow story say about sports journalism in general? Is it about politics for them? Are they simply more comfortable tolerating a Pacman Jones, an Antonio Cromartie, or a Rae Carruth? Is the Tebow story showing a political side of sports journalism that hasn’t been as obvious to some in years past, or is Tebow simply upsetting sports journalists because he doesn’t fit the NFL orthodoxy mold of a pro-style, sexy 6’5” Elvis Grbac type QB with a Jeff George style arm to succeed in the NFL? All we can say for sure is that for a number of reasons, NFL writers and sports journalists are definitely cheering against Tebow. His touchdowns and post-game conferences make them cringe, but they can’t change the channel. Siss, boom, bang! Right back atcha baby!