Hello again everybody...
To those of you I haven't spoken with in the last couple of weeks, I hope you have had and will continue to have a very Happy New Year!
And what better way to kick off 2012 here at “Writing for the Cycle” then by tackling perhaps the most polarizing athlete to come along in years, right?!
Okay, maybe some of you would prefer that I kick off the annum nuevo with lighter fare, but I can't help but think it would be far less interesting, so I'm going to go with my original idea anyway.
Tim Tebow - and perhaps more so the reaction *to* Tim Tebow - is simply one of the most fascinating things to happen to sports in ages. You might like him, you might hate him, but hardly anyone who has even a passing interest in football is ambivalent towards him.
Good, bad or ugly, people have an opinion. Those opinions range from the sincere and thoughtful to the crazy and half-cocked, with seemingly endless shades of gray in between.
I'm bewildered, I'm befuddled, I'm bemused, I'm amazed and ultimately I'm inspired by the range of reaction to him. And that's why I felt the need to write this column.
Which I'll get to...
Right after the quote!
“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.”
- John 15:22
Yes, I know. A Bible verse hasn't appeared here before. There are reasons for that which I may or may not get into as this goes along. We'll see. This is also the spot where I generally have some pithy or interesting explanation as to why I selected this quote. That's not going to happen right this moment either. Instead, you'll have to keep reading, and I promise it will connect to...
Confession #1: I didn't like Tim Tebow when he was a Florida Gator.
There were several reasons for this.
One, I have and continue to loathe Urban Meyer (then the head coach of the Florida Gators). I think he's smarmy, arrogant, inauthentic, intellectually dishonest and not a terribly strong role model for young athletes.
Having said that, I also have to admit that he's a hell of a football coach, and if he was winning those two National Championships at Wisconsin instead of Florida it's more than likely that I'd feel completely different about him.
(In fact, there are plenty of people who'd use the same string of adjectives - minus the championships - to describe the current head coach at Wisconsin, and I really couldn't argue their point with any real conviction.)
But he's not the coach of the Badgers, and in fact now coaches one of their biggest rivals, which only makes me all the more comfortable with the distaste I feel for him.
The bigger point being, I don't like Urban, and so any player that plays for him is bound to be tainted by that dislike.
But that's not the only reason I didn't like Tim when he was a Gator.
I also didn't like him because of the way he conducted himself. It wasn't that he was being a bad guy, or disrespecting the game the way that so many athletes do. It was all the histrionics, the rah-rah sideline antics and “this is the biggest game of your life” speeches that I found to be... overdone.
Look, when you're the number one rated team in the country and you're destroying Vanderbilt for the umpteenth time, it's not “the biggest game of your life”... it's just not. And yet he'd go through those same motions regardless, which just struck me as trying too hard to fulfill an image.
If there's one thing I can't stand - and let's be honest, there's WAY more than just one thing - it's disingenuous people. I don't like people who are trying to be something they're not. Whether it's the role they've been asked to play, or the role they think people want them to play, if it's not really who they are, I think that's fairly obvious and rather annoying.
Which leads me to Confession #2: I like Tim Tebow as a Denver Bronco.
Has he changed from his days at Florida? Not really.
He's still the same type of athlete. He's still the same type of guy. He still goes through the same kinds of histrionics on the sidelines that I didn't like when he was a Gator.
So what has changed? My perspective.
I began to like Tim when the backlash started. I dislike hype in a major way. If there's a vociferous reaction to something, I tend to go against that reaction by default. When the Harry Potter novels first started to really explode in popularity, I railed against them as over-hyped drivel.
(Of course, I did that not having read a single one of them, and once I got around to actually cracking the cover of the first book, I was hooked in less than three chapters. But that's a different story.)
The point is when people started railing on Tim as not having the skills to be a NFL quarterback, when they began accusing him of being too “in your face” with his faith and religion, I immediately reacted by thinking, “there's got to be something good there if people seem to hate it so much.”
Unconventional thinking perhaps, but welcome to the wonder of me!
The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized there was more to it than just that.
Now he's the underdog. He's not supposed to be able to compete at this level. He's not supposed to get his team into the playoffs. He's not supposed to have success. But he is doing exactly all of those things.
I like it when people work hard. I like it when they defy expectations. I like it when find success they weren't “supposed” to have, because of the hope it provides the rest of us.
I'm never going to be a professional athlete, but when I watch Tebow succeed, it reminds me that if you work hard and have faith in yourself, you can find some measure of success in whatever it is you choose to be. That measure may not be conventional in nature, but that doesn't mean it can't be satisfying.
I've also changed my tune on his antics. When he was at Florida, and I didn't watch him on a regular basis, I found it easy to jump to conclusions and make snap judgments about them. Now that I'm watching him more regularly and really trying to delve more deeply into who he really is, I'm finding that they're really rather harmless.
He's not showing up the opposition, he's not disrespecting the game, he's just living in the moment and expressing his passion and joy for not only the game, but for life in general. And that's something I've grown to appreciate.
So I admit it. I'm a Tebow fan. I've got a t-shirt. I'm going to watch the Broncos play the Patriots tomorrow night and root like crazy for Denver to pull off the upset.
Partially because I like him. And partially because I'd like to see him shove that success up the tailpipe of all of his haters.
Which leads me to Confession #3: I do and I don't understand the hate.
The reaction Tim Tebow engenders is so incredibly virulent that it quite literally takes me aback at times.
The most common reason you hear for the hate is: “He's not a 'good' quarterback, and people that are enjoying his success just don't understand football.”
Look, I get it. He's not a “great” quarterback. Heck, he might not even be a mediocre quarterback. But why would anybody hate him for that?
He's not allowed to be on a successful team if he's just mediocre? He should be punished for that?
Folks, Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl. Yes, it was because he played for a team with a all-time top 5 defense, and a seriously punishing running game. And yes, his job was basically just to not screw things up for the Ravens. But he still won a Super Bowl. That's factual, and it can never be taken away from him.
No, Tim Tebow isn't solely responsible for Denver's resurgence this year. He's probably not even *mostly* responsible for it.
(Though it's fair to point out that this was a team that was firmly in the “Suck for Luck” conversation before he became the starter, and which has since gone on to become a playoff-winning team after he became the starter. That's not 100% coincidental, people.)
But he IS part of it. And there's no reason for anyone to hold that against him. I just don't understand why people seem to.
The second reason you hear for the hate is: “He's too forward with his faith, he's cramming it down our throats, and he should just dial it back.”
Wearing a Biblical reference on your eyeblack is being “too forward”? Answering a question he's asked about why he's religious is “cramming it down our throats”? And just because religion isn't central to everyone's existence means that someone who has it as a core part of their being should “dial it back”?
On the contrary, if he didn't wear the eyeblack, if he didn't answer the questions, if he tried to “dial it back” a bit, he'd be going against the very things that make him who he is. And if I railed against disingenuous people before, then it only follows that I'd have to rip him if he tried to be anything other than who and what he is just because some people didn't like it.
You don't have to agree with his faith. His faith doesn't require you to share in it, for it to be real for him.
It does require him to celebrate it without shame. It does require him to be open and honest about it when asked. And why on earth would anybody “dial back” something that brings them so much joy and success?!
Which brings us to perhaps the most fascinating part of this hatred: the notion that God is favoring Tim Tebow and helping him win games due to Tim's faith just annoys the crap out of everybody.
The people that share Tim's faith are annoyed by it because to suggest that God cares about whether the Denver Broncos win or not demeans the larger issue of what God *does* care about. Those who believe will say that God delights in the fact that Tim is making the most of the gifts he's been given and in so doing, glorifying God. *That* is what matters to God, not whether the Broncos cover the spread or not.
The people who don't share Tim's faith are annoyed because they think that believers are manufacturing a way of interjecting the notion of God where they feel it has no business being discussed. They think that believers are stringing together a series of otherwise explicable coincidences in an effort to justify their faith to those who don't believe. So screw you, Tim Tebow, for providing a pretext for the faithful to shove it down their throats!
But even with all of those explanations, I don't think we've really hit on why he inspires such emotional reactions from people.
Here's why I think those reactions happen: Tim Tebow's a good guy. I mean a really good guy.
(Need evidence? Just read this.)
And when we're confronted with a really good guy who's having success, we can react in one of two ways.
We can admire him. We can appreciate his success and the hard work that led to it. And we can hold him up as a positive example and maybe even - yes, I'll say it - a role model.
We can look to him as someone who can inspire us to want to be better, more successful people who lead better lives.
Or we can go the other way.
(And this is where the quote from earlier, connects. So go back up and read it again. No worries, I'll wait.)
(Okay, you're back? Good. I'll continue.)
We can also look at a really good guy who's having success, and be reminded of the lack of goodness and success in our own lives. And we can hate him for it.
We can dwell on the mistakes and bad choices we've seen other athletes make - and that we ourselves have made - and we can choose to believe that Tim must be a fraud.
Nobody can be that good. We're not that good. Other athletes aren't that good. He can't be that good either, and we can resent him for even trying to be.
We can be bitter, caustic and cynical and hate him for “causing” us to feel those negative emotions.
After all, if he wasn't playing in the NFL, if he wasn't having success in the NFL, then we wouldn't be hearing about him all the time, and we would be having all of these bitter, caustic and cynical feelings, right?
Tim isn't “causing” any of that folks. If you're feeling that, it's coming from you. Not him. Take a good, long, healthy look in the mirror and try to deny that. I dare you. You can't. Not if you're truly honest with yourself.
Look, I'm not saying you have to be a fan of Tim Tebow. I'm not saying you even have to like Tim Tebow. All I'm saying is that when it comes to Tim, can we please have a rational discussion about what it is he's doing and why we're reacting to it the way we are?
The Star-Tribune's Patrick Reusse wrote a column the other day which in many ways inspired me to write this missive today.
In it he writes:
"My view of the Tebow phenomenon is there's much less religious bigotry involved with his critics than there is religious zealotry assisting in his astounding popularity."
In other words, you can't call me a bigot for disliking him, since the reasons I dislike him have everything to do with his level of play and nothing to do with his faith. But at the same time I get to call you a zealot because who could possibly like a guy who's this mediocre? It must be because you want him to justify your own kooky religious beliefs!
Sorry, Pat, but I think that's a gross over-simplification.
As I've tried to point out, just as there are a series of reasons that people choose to hate Tim Tebow, there are an equal number of very justifiable reasons to pull for the guy.
No, you don't have to like him. But I choose to, and there's simply nothing wrong with that.
If you want to hate him, if you want to go to written war against him either in the newspaper or on Twitter, that's your business. All I ask is that you be honest with yourself as to why you're doing it, and show the same respect to those of us who disagree as you'd ask us to show you.
After all, isn't that exactly what Tebow's been doing all along?
So there you have it. I'm a Tebow fan, and now maybe you have a better understanding of why. Hopefully, if nothing else, you have a reason to put a little more thought into it than you did before reading all of my blather here today!
When the muse will strike me next, who knows. But until it does, thanks for reading!