February 2012

Why hate Tim Tebow?

By Gail Binkly

A native Coloradoan, I grew up watching football (the old Baltimore Colts, then the Broncos) with my father and sister. Sometimes I think sports are a colossal evil; other times I think they’re the cleverest invention humanity ever devised to channel our aggressions and provide us entertainment. Either way, I remain a faithful follower of the Donkeys.

So, when Tim Tebow took over as starting quarterback in the seventh week of this season and helped turn an apparently hopeless season into one of our most memorable, I was thrilled. Tebow is the most exciting QB to put on the orange and blue since Elway departed. He has an ineffable quality that defines the very best athletes – a “never-say-die” attitude, a belief that he can win, no matter what.

It wasn’t long before I realized, however, that by liking Tebow, I was swimming against the current of political doctrine. As a liberal, I’m supposed to despise him — not for his unfortunate habit of throwing wounded-duck, deflating-beachball types of passes, but for his religious faith.

Tebow’s most ardent followers love him with a zeal bordering on idolatry, but their passion is probably matched by the intensity of the bile with which his detractors regard him.

Just take a look at the “I hate Tim Tebow” page on Facebook if you’re hungry for a taste of unadulterated, largely obscene vitriol directed at the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner. Or roll out a tape of one of the regular-season games wherein opposing fans shouted, “Tebow blows!” or “Tebow sucks!” as he scrambled for first downs. Or check out the many comedy skits mocking his prayerful ways. (Some are amusing and rather gentle, like the one on Saturday Night Live, but others are darker.)

The intensity of the anger he engenders is difficult for me to fathom. Tebow isn’t the first Christian to play in the NFL, nor is he the first to thank Jesus after victories (remember Kurt Warner?).

Of course, he is the first to have a word coined after his manner of dropping on one knee to pray in the stadium. Such devoutness is easy to mock, and it’s certainly reasonable to question the idea of praying to God to win a football game (if that is indeed what he’s praying for) when the world is full of sick people to be healed and injustices to be rectified. I’m not an evangelical Christian, and I heartily dislike the religious phonies who preach piety and love while engaging in reprehensible and hateful behavior.

But I don’t see Tebow as among them. By all accounts, he isn’t some hypocritical show-off praying in order to impress people. Prayer just seems as natural as breathing to him.

“There’s not an ounce of artifice or phoniness or Hollywood in this kid Tebow, and I’ve looked everywhere for it,” wrote veteran sports writer Rick Reilly for espn.com.

Surely you don’t have to be religious to like Tim Tebow. He has qualities of humility and niceness that are in far too short supply on the football field and in the world at large. He gives credit to opposing teams for good play. He says his receivers “make me look better than I am.” He gathers a prayer circle on the field when a player goes down with an injury. He greets adversity with grace rather than petulance.

Tebow is a fierce competitor who (rather foolishly) played with torn rib cartilage, a bruised lung and fluid buildup in his lung cavity during Denver’s loss to New England in the playoffs. But he’s also a sunny spirited soul who spends time with disabled and dying fans immediately before and after each game and says they help him keep things in perspective.

The world of pro sports is studded with assaulters, accused rapists, stalkers, wife-beaters, adulterers, gamblers, drunk drivers, and even a dog-killer. And we’re going to heap opprobrium on a young man because he prays?

I get the impression that, however short or long Tebow’s tenure in the NFL turns out to be, he will never be one of those lost athletes clinging to football long after his prime is past because he doesn’t know what else to do. He’ll be with orphans in the Philippines or doing missionary work around the globe. And, you know, I’d rather have such a man as the Broncos’ quarterback than someone who thinks the greatest good in life is marrying a supermodel. (Although it would be nice if he could throw a little more consistently.)

Of course, Tebow will disappoint us at some point, because no one is perfect – yet he is expected to be. And fame will inevitably change him in ways that are difficult to predict. If he starts weighing in on political issues and acting holier-than-thou, I’ll think differently about him.

But in the meantime, I’ll cheer for him on and off the field, and I’ll be thrilled whenever he leads Denver to victory. Because Tebow does make us believe. If the Broncos can come back from 15 points down with under 3 minutes left, then we all start thinking that miracles can happen. People with stage IV cancer can go into remission, and lost things can be found, and underdogs can triumph against the odds.

And that’s when the world of sports transcends the greed and the meanness, and becomes something beautiful – something people of all political stripes can enjoy.

Gail Binkly is editor of the Four Corners Free Press in Cortez, Colo.