Tebow: He might be the second coming of …

There was this quarterback, you see, and in his own way he was very controversial.

For starters, he was a leader more than a tactician, a field general more than a pin-point passer. On top of that, he tended to make many of his biggest plays with his legs, running all over the place and creating havoc until he could finally get rid of the ball. And his throwing motion? It was often a sort of a wild wind-up mess (he liked to pull the ball down too low when preparing to fire it deep) that the purists hated. It was rarely pretty.

On top of all of that, he was devoutly religious and rather conservative, in terms of politics. In particular, he was vocal on his beliefs that sex was something that happened inside a traditional marriage — period.

The talent scouts were absolutely sure that he would never make it in the National Football League, even though he had won the Heisman Trophy once and competed for it in other years.

Besides, the faithful Catholic named Roger Staubach had to serve as a Navy officer before he could suit up for the Dallas Cowboys. It took him time to get his act together, but he turned into a pretty good pro quarterback.

What? You thought I was talking about someone else?

I thought about Staubach, who was one of my heroes back in my days as a Texas youth, when I read the following Tebow column by Deron Snyder of the Washington Times. Your GetReligionistas rarely discuss columns, because our focus is on hard news in the mainstream press. However, we make exceptions from time to time when opinion writers, columnists, scholars, bloggers and others focus directly on topics related to religion in the news and its impact on coverage.

That is precisely what Snyder did in his discussion of why Tebow remains such a controversial figure in print and television coverage of professional football.

Here’ a slice of the column focusing on Tebow himself:

… Tebow had to be himself, which means letting everyone know exactly where he stands, consequences be damned. Essentially he drew a line that separated him from everyone else — not in a better-than-thou sort of way, but a marked distinction nonetheless — and we’ve been picking sides ever since. Along the way, we’ve had difficulty in keeping our opinions unencumbered. Thoughts on Tebow the Christian get mixed with Tebow the Quarterback. Tebow the Hyped is entangled with Tebow the Great Guy.

There’s no other explanation for the fascination with a second-year QB who started three games (winning one) for his 3-13 team. Otherwise, such a player would never have the league’s third-best selling jersey in 2010, right ahead of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. He’d never have nearly 246,000 followers on Twitter, or 6,000 per each of his 41 career completions. And he’d never have countless media providing endless coverage to drive supporters and detractors into their respective camps.

But there is more to this than the quarterback himself. There are other traditional religious beliefs in professional sports and most of them manage to avoid controversy — precisely to the degree that they are willing to avoid statements that link their faith to moral, cultural and, in this age, political questions.

Snyder, for example, mentions that Kurt Warner was a strong believer and never created a major controversy. I guess he forgot that famous Warner advertisement linked to abortion.

Eventually, the columnist concedes:

Put it all together and you’ve got the anomaly that is Tim Tebow. He’s an outstanding young man, yet he’s widely mocked and despised. He’s a marginally talented pro prospect, yet he’s hailed as Denver’s savior and franchise QB.

The accelerant in this debate is religion, which along with race and politics forms our trinity of third-rail topics. Tebow isn’t a litmus test for faith in God and belief in Jesus Christ, but that won’t stop the saints and the aints from issuing grades.

If Tebow beats out Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn, and/or develops into a winning quarterback, it just proves that scouts and personnel executives and our own eyeballs can be wrong. If Tebow is relegated to a career on the sideline, holding clipboards and wearing caps, it just proves that being the nicest, most-devout guy with impeccable integrity isn’t enough alone.

Here is my journalistic suggestion: Cover Tebow as a quarterback with flaws who is working to correct them, working quite hard in fact. Cover Tebow the believer by actually quoting what the man says and then let readers respond to him, instead of others pontificating about him.

It worked for Staubach, on and off the field. It might work again.

Oh, let me stress that the goal here is to comment on the coverage of Tebow and the content of Snyder’s column — not to air out your views on Tebow, his faith or his throwing motion (or even the Bronco’s faith-based decision to draft him in the first round, ahead of Jacksonville).

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://bullschuck.blogspot.com Bull

    “Your GetReligionistas rarely discuss columns,”
    Ya know, that’s becoming less and less a true statement over the past few months. Not that I mind, but I’ve see more and more apologies for discussing columns and why you don’t normally discuss columns and that this is a rare example of you covering a column.
    But you are covering more columns these days.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    BULL:

    I can see that, in large part because of the high profile of religious and cultural issues in politics these days.

    The whole Got news? feature also spins off the fact that more and more NEWS, in terms of factual material, is showing up in op-eds, advocacy journals, etc.

    Gives me the willies, but that’s the truth. It’s the age we live in.

  • Jettboy

    tmatt, that is what I thought. To not cover op-eds these days is to ignore half the news. There is no longer a line between “news” and “opinion pieces” these days.

  • tmatt

    Jettboy:

    No the line is there in many publications, but it’s being violated.

    PLUS, there are more Fox News/MSNBC-esque European/advocacy outlets out there.

    The field is more complex.

  • Peggy R

    I’m going to get geo-centric here: The odd thing is that the #1 draft pick Sam Bradford is also a Christian and was pretty darned good in St Louis last year. He also won a Heisman. He was a starter, unlike Tebow. The non-local media don’t cover Bradford too much. And about Warner, the women here in STL MISS him immensely. (Catholic women too!) My mother insists he was pushed out b/c of his overt Christianity and team mates didn’t like that. I have never read it corroborated in any media or gossip sheet, however. His outspoken wife, however, was the controversy.

  • astorian

    Speaking as a conservative Catholic who LIKES Tim Tebow…

    I always thought he was a major reach as a first round draft pick, and thought the Broncos were foolish to draft him so high and pay him so much money.

    Tim Tebow is a great athlete, but his style of play in college made him ill-suited to be a pro quarterback. In fairness, he’s far from unique there. MANY national chamoionship-winning quarterbacks (James Street, John Shaffer, Tommy Frazier, Tony Rice, Tee Martin) and Heisman-winning quarterbacks (Eric Crouch, Charlie Ward) have been shunned by the NFL, and it’s NOT because they were “too nice” or “too osentatiously Christian.”

    In order to succeed, in the NFL, Tim Tebow needed

    1) A few years to adjust his throwing mechanics and his style of play

    2) A smart, innovative coah who could think of ways to use him in the meantime.

    The IDEAL thing for Tebow would have been to get drafted in the 3rd or 4th round by a team like the Saints or the Patriots. Both of those teams have established, stellar quarterbacks (so there’d be no pressure for Tebow to play or to produce right away) and head coaches who are crafty strategists. A Sean Payton or a Bill Belichick could have drawn up plays that would take advantage of Tebow’s talents, while a Drew Brees or a Tom Brady could have been invaluable mentors to a young quarterback…..

  • Mike O.

    With the possible exception of throwing a few hyperlinks into the online version of the story, I’m okay with Deron Snyder’s article. It’s assessing the overwhelming attention given to Tim Tebow, so it’s assuming the readers are more than familiar with the story.

    Cover Tebow the believer by actually quoting what the man says and then let readers respond to him, instead of others pontificating about him.

    I’d argue that the point of the article is less about Tim Tebow’s specific beliefs and more about why others are pontificating about him to such an extent. Sure they could throw in some Tebow quotes, but again the readers are expected to know pretty much what he’s done and where he stands. Some people love him and some don’t.

    Mr. Snyder is saying, in his opinion, the attention he draws is not in line with Tim Tebow’s talent nor in line with other young quarterbacks. He’s saying it’s due to the attention he brought on himself during his college days. Personally, I don’t think Deron Snyder is really going out on a limb here. But all-in-all I don’t have a problem with the structure of his article.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    astorian:

    Did you read the final lines of my post?

    Do you see that you simply offered your opinion of Tebow, with no commentary whatsoever on the subject of the post?

  • Jay

    Tmatt,

    Did they draft him because he’s a good player? Did they draft him because he’s a celebrity (which ties directly to his outspoken views on religious and moral issues)? Did they draft him because he’s less likely to get a DUI or get involved in Farve- or Roethlisberger-type sexual misconduct?

    Also, the analogy to your much beloved Staubach falls down, because back then serving in the Navy and being a regular churchgoer was considered normal. (In Texas, I suspect the converse would be considered abnormal in the 60s).

    You have covered the whole issue of athlete prayer to the extent that we know there are many other Christians in the NFL. But it seems as though Tebow chose to put his faith into the foreground during his college interviews, to the point that the reporters know they can get “controversial” statements out of him if they only ask.

    If Roethlisberger is (or was) 2 standard deviations off the norm for an NFL quarterback in one direction, Tebow is 2 std deviations in the other direction. The difference is, Tebow is glad to talk about it (making for great copy) while Pittsburgh or Green Bay certainly didn’t want their bad boy QBs talking too much.

    Jay

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JAY:

    Actually, Staubach’s faith was the subject of quite a bit of controversy in his NFL days, as opposed to college. It was trouble at the NATIONAL level, not in Texas — where he was much beloved.

    Is there any evidence that Tebow deliberately sought out controversy in interviews and press conferences while at Florida? What happened is he would give speeches to RELIGIOUS GROUPS and then reporters would ask questions about his supposedly bizarre beliefs (especially at a party school like U of F).

    A classic Roger the non-dodger moment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqLWQ0oHhBE


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