Concerning that strange, lost Sports Illustrated Tebow epic

We are running out of football Sundays in this National Football League season, so I had better dig deep into my tmatt file of GetReligion guilt and write as short a post as possible about that amazing Tim Tebow feature that Sports Illustrated ran back before Christmas.

Are there any GetReligion readers out there who subscribe to Sports Illustrated these days?

If so, then you surely saw that massive piece entitled “The Book of Tebow.” I mean, this was a long-reader deluxe — a full 12,600-plus words with tons of photos and graphics.

And the thesis statement — focusing on Tebow’s future after being cut by the New England Patriots — was oh, so, newsworthy and screamed out for attention:

There is no real precedent for his situation. Tebow is America’s most influential athlete, according to a poll of 1,100 adults published by Forbes in May, and he is also unemployed. In 23 months he became a starting NFL quarterback, won seven of eight games in exhilarating fashion, led the Broncos to an astonishing playoff win over the Steelers and was cast aside by the Broncos, Jets and Patriots. Every other team had a chance to pick him up, and none did. Now, at 26, in his early prime as an athlete, he is trying to become what he already was.

So, SI subscribers, you didn’t see this remarkable mini-book on one of the most controversial sports figures of our era? Really?

Actually there is a good reason for that: The editors at the nation’s most prestigious sports magazine did not run this article in the magazine and, instead, slipped all 12,600-plus words of it into the online world with little or no fanfare (at least, little fanfare that I saw and I AM an SI subscriber).

This piece must have required weeks of work and quite a budget, which is another reason why the online-only decision is so interesting. In terms of potential readership, especially out there in the American heartland, this is kind of like doing a Will Smith movie and then releasing it straight to DVD.

So what happened with this piece?

Several people wrote me about this article, including a former GetReligionista who wanted to know if I thought it was — despite its length — rather incomplete. In particular, this scribe wanted to know if I thought this story was too soft and too positive.

You know what? I think this piece is too positive, if the goal was to tell the real Tebow story. It contains a massive hole in its journalistic foundation. This paragraph will help me illustrate the point:

As time went on, Tebow’s NFL career became a sort of national Rorschach test. What you saw there said as much about you as it did about Tebow. There were enough conflicting facts to build any number of arguments. What he had done on the field that year got so mixed up with religion and politics that it became dangerous to mention his name in public. Dozens of former teammates declined to comment for this story. Just as anything you said about Tebow was right, anything you said was wrong. And probably offensive to someone. To many Christians he was a hero, a paragon of virtue in an age of great sin, and this feeling complicated any rational measurement of his quarterbacking talent. Those in the mainstream media knew this, and thus began prefacing their opinions by saying Just a great kid, but. … Nicest guy you’ll ever meet, but. … Phenomenal athlete, but. … but those prefaces only made it worse. Then you had the people who made a job of offending others, and for a while Tebow paid their mortgages. He was white, male, straight and Christian, so in 21st-century Western civilization you could assail him at no risk to your own standing among the politically correct. The British comedian John Oliver told an audience that if he were in a room with Tebow and Osama bin Laden and he had a gun with two bullets, he would shoot Tebow first. Did Oliver get in trouble for that? No. He was chosen as substitute host of The Daily Show.

So what is the crucial gap in this feature?

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Tim Tebow meets the fans in liberal New England

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Man, that Tim Tebow is way more popular than he should be, in light of his third-string quarterback status. Why is that?

And that Tebow guy does so much charity work and keeps going so far out of his way to identify with people and to make that one-on-one connection that is so rare in the world of mega-celebrities. What’s that all about?

You can tell that the Yankees up at The Boston Globe are trying to figure out what they need to say about Tebow and where, in a daily story, they need to say the obvious. It’s kind of interesting to watch Tebow just carry on, doing his thing, while located in a region of the country that tends to view people of his ilk like aliens from another planet.

You know what I’m saying, right?

So the Globe team did this story the other day about Tebow’s unusually gracious manner with people who are seeking autographs. It’s the sort of story that sports reporters have to crank out day after day during the drudge work of training camp. This one ran under the double-decker headline that begged the obvious:

Tim Tebow’s bond with fans is unique

‘There’s something about him, something that can make someone feel so special’

A unique bond. It seems that there’s something special about this guy. Now what might that be?

Now check it out: What’s the bizarre fact in this opening anecdote that goes without any commentary whatsoever?

FOXBOROUGH – Madelin Beardsley is a 15-year-old with cerebral palsy. She also has selective mutism.

Sometimes, in unfamiliar settings, she clams up.

So when she planned on attending Patriots training camp last week, her parents suggested what they often do: Make a poster.

“It’s a way for her to make herself known,” Madelin’s father, Scott Beardsley, said. “For her to stand up for herself and communicate what she really wants to say.”

Last Monday night, the Beardsleys gathered in their Virginia Beach home with markers and white oak tag.

Madelin selected the text: “Tebow we came 600 miles to see you, please come see me.”

On Thursday in Foxborough, he did.

Tim Tebow — the Patriots’ renowned third-string quarterback — met Madelin after practice. He smiled. He told her he loved the poster.

“A handful of players signed autographs for Madelin,” said Scott, who grew up a Patriots fan in Beverly. “Tebow was the only one to ask her name. I can’t tell you what that meant to her. There’s something about him, something that can make someone feel so special. Even if they meet for 10 seconds.”

Yes, there is a connection between the family and the Patriots. But did anyone ask if, truth be told, these people had come 600 miles in order to meet Tebow? And they’re from Virginia Beach? Might this family be identifying with Tebow for faith-based reasons, as opposed to the logic of football?

Did the Globe team even ask these people why they were there or, to be blunt about it, have we reached the point where no on even needs to state that this whole mysterious “bond” between Tebow and many of his fans — especially the young, the weak and the handicapped — is rooted in a faith connection?

How do journalists handle this “bond” thing, this far along?

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On Tim Tebow, ‘spirituality’ and stating the obvious

Here we go again, sort of.

Now, I live in the land of purple and black here in Maryland, home of the World Champion Baltimore Ravens (it’s still fun to say that), where if anyone asked the local faithful to nominate a few candidates for the role of Antichrist, New England coach Bill Belichick would be right near the top of the list. Thus, the announcement that You Know Who had signed with the Patriots (Tim Tebow plus Patriots; get ready for an IRS audit) created quite a bit of amazement.

And now this, care of a better-than-the-norm story in Newsday:

FOXBORO, Mass. – The Patriots have said almost nothing about Tim Tebow’s football skills — or lack thereof — and where he might fit in on the field.

But Wednesday the team’s owner, Robert Kraft, said he was drawn to Tebow in part because of his “spirituality,” using that term three times to reporters.

“You can’t have enough good people around you,” Kraft said after a ceremony to honor 26 winners of the Myra Kraft Community MVP Awards, named for his late wife. “He has the added dimension of spirituality being so important to him, and that personally appeals to me a lot.”

Now, no sane reader had any trouble reading the code language here. There is no way on earth that Kraft was suggesting that young master Tebow was one of those “spiritual but not religious” people. Kraft simply didn’t need to connect the dots for everyone in the room to know what he was saying. Right?

Now my journalist question — after reading quite a few mainstream reports on this development — is whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that some, perhaps many, journalists felt that they needed to write this story while avoiding the “C” word. Did journalists need to state the obvious, or was the fact they were writing about TIM TEBOW enough for most of the population of North America?

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