This column was originally published in USA TODAY.
How often do self-righteous football commentators have occasion to lament the behavior of modern players: Chad Johnson’s reality show and “Ocho-Cinco” publicity stunt; Adam “Pac-Man” Jones’ nightclub incidents; Michael Vick’s dog-fighting hobby; and the never-ending soap opera that is Brett Favre. The modern athlete is, they say, selfish, all about the money, and looking for any opportunity to promote himself.
Riding a Bronco to the rescue is former college football superstar Tim Tebow. Here is a young man of whom we can all be proud. He is clean-cut, articulate, humble, gracious in victory, hard-working, and, if that weren’t enough, he’s a humanitarian. No, not one of those “humanitarians” who does his giving in the public eye, but a humanitarian who gives quietly in the orphanages of the Philippines.
There is only one problem. Many in the news media don’t approve. Yes, these same commentators who bemoan the decline of football civilization continually tell us that Tebow isn’t good enough to be in the NFL. That alone is not unusual. The list of Tebow-hating commentators is long: Boomer Esiason, Colin Cowherd, and Merril Hoge to name only a few. Of course, we expect our sports jocks to give us their opinions, and sometimes that means evaluating the prospective talent of players coming up from the collegiate ranks. Tebow is no exception to this and, while still a quarterback at Florida, there was some question about his ability to play that same position at the professional level.
Only here’s the thing: The current wave of criticism leveled at Tebow isn’t about football. Not really. Oh, they will all swear that it is. Tebow’s shortcomings as a football player are expounded upon every week: He lacks accuracy, experience, and football I.Q. (we all know that you must be an intellectual to play this game); the offense he is best suited for will never work in the NFL; he can’t adapt to the professional game, etc., etc.
Our cue, however, that Tebow’s numerous critics aren’t motivated by a desire to protect the integrity of the sport from unworthies is revealed in the manner of their critique. To say that they have reserved a special kind of venom for Tim Tebow is an understatement. Indeed, to hear them speak, one imagines the Denver Broncos are quarterbacked by Betty White.
Only here’s another thing: Tim Tebow’s football credentials are impeccable. A Florida Gator pedigree, a Heisman Trophy winner, twice a BCS national champion, and one of the greatest college football players of all time, he possesses a collegiate resume that Tom Brady could only dream of. Granted, none of the aforementioned means automatic success in the NFL, but it seems a bit premature to write him off.
Tebow isn’t, to be sure, playing at the level of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, but who is? Do we hear lengthy discourses on Curtis Painter’s or Tyler Palko’s ability to play in the NFL? Not outside of Indianapolis or Kansas City. Exacerbating matters still further, Tebow is winning. How dare he. Who does he think he is? Now 5-1 as a starter, Tebow’s critics are indignant that the Gainesville upstart didn’t pack his cleats and go home the moment they declared him inadequate. The simple fact is, they want him to fail. And now, after so much ink and vitriol predicting just that, they need him to fail.
So what gives? Why does even Tebow’s own coaching staff and management offer so little public support?
Jake Plummer, the latest to take pot shots at the embattled Denver quarterback, might have been speaking for anti-Tebowites everywhere when he said in an interview on a Phoenix radio station that he would like Tebow more if he would “shut up” about his faith in Jesus Christ.
And with that little comment, the cat, as they say, was out of the bag.
Plummer said what the commentators wouldn’t say. Their dislike for Tim Tebow is not, as they would have us believe, about his throwing motion or his completion percentage; it’s all about his open professions of faith and his goody-two shoes image. When it comes right down to it, we don’t want heroes who are truly good. We want them to fail the occasional drug test or start a bar fight from time to time. It makes us feel better about ourselves. Tebow, however, doesn’t make us feel better about ourselves. People like him make us feel a little convicted about the things we say and do. So we find a reason to dislike them. Or, when Tebow says that glory goes to God and the credit for a victory goes to his teammates, coaches, and family, we are suspicious. An increasingly jaded culture, we don’t believe that anyone can say such things and really mean them.
So we wait.
We wait for evidence that he really isn’t that good. We hope to see him kick a player on the ground, drop an F-bomb on television, or Tweet pictures of his privates. In the meantime, we always have Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky to make us feel better about ourselves.
© Copyright 2011 Larry A. Taunton