Like everyone else in America, I have watched the story of Tim Tebow unfold over these past 8 weeks. Each week it’s the same thing. The kid looks woefully overmatched for three quarters. Then in the fourth quarter he becomes something else. It’s as if his body gets taken over by the ghost of Johnny Unitas. Then he gets an infusion of Joe Namath from 1969 and Joe Montana from 1989, and the next thing you know, the Broncos have won another game.
The camera pans to a shot of John Elway looking awkwardly flabbergasted. Afterwards, all the football talking heads are left blubbering on and on about his terrible mechanics, horrendous stats, and the annoying kneeling and praying on the sidelines. Internet chat rooms then ignite into flames with apoplectic rage at his sermonizing, at his goody-two-shoes corn-pone personality, and especially at his virginity. Then across the virtual street another universe of chat rooms are positively gushing over his wholesomeness, impeccable manners and humility. The battle lines have been drawn. If you’re a Christian, you’ve gotta love him and if you’re a heathen, you’ve gotta hate him. It’s tremendously fun and must see TV.
What I find most compelling however, are his press conferences after the games. I’ve watched four of them now and they are amazingly consistent. So, in keeping with the latest trend in journalism, I will now run a Fact-Check on his remarks to determine whether Mr. Tebow is, in fact, honest. Each week he makes essentially the same comments as follows:
“Our defense played great the entire game and if not for them we never could have staged a comeback at all.”
FACT CHECK: TRUE
“ On those last two drives, my offensive linemen were amazing. Their blocking made me look much better than I am.”
FACT CHECK: TRUE
“ I was so proud of ( insert running back, wide receiver, or kicker) on that last drive. He really stepped up and made great plays all over the field and I couldn’t be any happier for him because he’s such a great guy.”
FACT CHECK: First part true. Hard to corroborate claim of “great guy” but at this point I will take Tebow’s word for it.
“I’m just working as hard as I can in practice every week and trying my best to get better”
FACT CHECK: TRUE
“We got a few breaks there in the last few minutes that sure helped us”
FACT CHECK: Like opposing defenses going to the prevent and guys fumbling the ball and running out of bounds for some inexplicable reason?? VERY TRUE
What’s my view of Tebow? Well, he looks more like a tight end to me. I don’t think he’s a great quarterback, not even sure he’s a good quarterback, but I do think he’s a great football player. He has the leadership ability and charisma required to inspire his teammates and that counts for a lot. There is something comforting about seeing a guy succeed at something that all the smart people told us he couldn’t possible do. The reason it’s a comfort to me is because it reminds me that the “smart people” aren’t always right. When I watch him fail for 3 quarters and keep pushing and pushing and working and striving and then finally breaking through to victory it helps me not to give up when I’m struggling. I also like seeing an athlete demonstrate humility in front of a nest of microphones for once.
Why do so many people loathe Tebow? Some may resent his constant public affirmations of faith. For many people faith is a private matter. Some may resent his success, his good looks, because most of us are neither. Some may just suspect that he’s a hypocrite who hasn’t been caught yet. In the era of Joe Paterno, Anthony Weiner, and Tiger Woods, this is an understandable reaction. A better explanation may be that in 2011 America, we don’t know what to make of 1950’s character when we see it. It strikes a discordant note in our public psyche to observe a rich, good-looking, athletic ,young man who isn’t a womanizing, self-absorbed, egomaniacal brute. We don’t know how to deal with our past come back to life, for if Tim Tebow lived in the 1950’s he would not be the subject of such cultural fascination, he would simply blend in. Now, we parse his every utterance looking for evidence of phoniness. Soon, teams of TMZ employees will be combing through his trash looking for used condoms. It just can’t be true. He cannot really be that nice, can he? Is it possible for a young man to take Christianity seriously enough to bet everything on his faith, to live out the teachings of Jesus not just at church but in every corner of his life, even the NFL?
Watching him these past 8 weeks, I wouldn’t bet against him.