The Unfair, Media-Induced Public Polarization of Tim Tebow
Why don’t you like Tim Tebow?
He’s a nice guy, who has done far more good in the world than he has done bad–if he has ever done anything bad in his life. His coaches love him. His teammates love him. Hell, an entire subsection of Florida loves every morsel of his being. From winning football games to saving kids lives overseas, Tebow is the personification of the modern-day do-gooder.
Why do you like Tim Tebow?
The man is far too perfect—suffocatingly perfect. He is one of the cockiest sons-of-bitches you will ever meet, and he seems to have very little self-awareness about this professional abilities. On top of that, he justifies a lot of what he does on his faith, and while admirable, it makes it impossible to know whether or not he actually knows what it is he is talking about sometimes.
What does it say about us a people that a guy like Tim Tebow is so polarizing? In this allegedly “post-race” society that we live in, aren’t we supposed to be better at accepting people for who they are? Shouldn’t we save our true disdain, dislike and displeasure for those that are a negative influence on us, our kids and the world as a whole?
Certainly, Tim Tebow is nothing but positive—so why the hate? Is it because we can’t handle his religious stance, even though we are supposed to be a religion-tolerant people? We see this all the time outside of sports, where religious politicians on the right make the people on the left sick to their stomach, and where irreligious folks on the left make the right want to change the course of the country. But why bring that to sports?
Sport is supposed to be the ultimate meritocracy. Tebow’s fame is not supposed to rest on an overpowering religious stance that he more or less made public while he was in college. The way we judge him is supposed to be based on how he plays on the football field. And given that we have seen very little in the way of Tebow on a football field, I really do not see how on Earth people have made such definitive stances about Tebow.
But boy are there a lot of stances! There is a plethora of Tebow-apologists that think the world of Tebow. With their faith in his ability to play professional football lying squarely on what they saw him do at the University of Florida, Tebow fans have defended their loved one from Day 1 of the NFL draft. Fresh out of college, Tebow’s jersey was the #1 seller in all of football, and he hadn’t so much as stepped on to a football field yet.
Perhaps that’s why the haters exist though. In a sports world that is one of the closest things to a meritocracy we have in America, people hated to see Tebow praised as a pro before he had even made the roster. In their defense, Tebow had to be the most celebrated, pumped-up, exalted, cheered for, and publicized third-stringer in the history of the NFL, sports and the world. Needless to say, if you believe in sports being a meritocracy, you hate to see Tebow put on that pedestal before he had played a game.
What truly is amazing, in regards to Tim Tebow, is that most of the public falls into one camp or the other, and there is very little room in the public’s eye for nuance, concession or compromise. And I ask again, what does that say about us a as people?
Actually, it says five things about us…
1. We do not know how to separate the person from the profession.
Is Tim Tebow for real? Is he really that nice of a guy? Is he really that religious? Was that infamous speech an emotional rally cry, or just some guy looking to get in front of the camera? Does Tebow really embody who I want my child to see as a role-model, or is he some guy that is bound to show his true colors down the road?
Those are the questions asked of Tebow on Google, in forums, on the radio and on message boards. But none of it has anything to do with why we know or care about Tebow. Sure, the next time I see Tebow running for the Senate, I will be sure to pull up a background check on his criminal history, but that should have nothing to do with how I, a man looking from thousands of miles and a world away, should be judging a football player. I know Tebow because he was a great quarterback at the University of Florida, not because he went on some mission to Asia and performed circumcisions. All the other stuff about Tebow is irrelevant to his profession and should not be tolerated by football, the media or the public.
But aye, there’s the rub. We as a people consistently make an assessment of a person’s job about more than the person’s performance. Call it nature, nurture or capitalism, but we see it in the workplace everyday. Complete idiots rise to positions of power merely because they talk a good game and fit into the ENTJ mold that businessmen are supposed to align with. I’m sure you have seen somebody get a promotion that they do not deserve, and I know you didn’t feel good about it. Or worse yet, you may have been passed up for a position because your work took a backseat to how somebody felt about you. How did that feel? I know it has happened to me.
So why do that to other people when we don’t want it done to ourselves? Who knows? That’s just yet another inconsistency of human behavior, and Tim Tebow is feeling the effects of it in the early stages of his career.
2. We let arrogance cloud our judgment of otherwise good people.
So let’s assume that judging a person’s profession based on a person’s personality is just a part of life that we have come to accept. I’m actually okay with that. After all, there are some things that are always going to be a part of this world, like drunken guys who try corny pick-up lines on sober women in bars.
However, what I cannot accept is that with Tebow, we are letting some of his personal flaws outweigh his more positive traits. In particular, Tebow is a rather arrogant guy. He is not necessarily arrogant in an outlandish way, he just really believes in himself and in his team, and he refuses to surrender to facts that suggest that he or his team will fail.
And that irks a lot of people. Don’t get me wrong; it is easy to understand that people don’t like the guy that just can’t take “no” for an answer even when “no” is the only answer. But in the case of an athlete, isn’t that what we want? You don’t want to your favorite team’s quarterback going on to the field thinking that his 32nd-ranked passing offense cannot beat this week’s 1st-ranked secondary, do you? The hell you don’t. Because if he thought that, how on earth could he ever stand a chance?
But if for some reason, that damn athlete actually comes out of his mouth and verbalizes that arrogance, we get mad at him? That makes no sense. Damn the political-correctness. If an athlete is arrogant, naïve or supercilious when it comes to his profession, let it be that way. It’s freaking sports for crying out loud! It’s already a shame that we let things like flag pins, tradition or bad quotes get in the way of electing our presidents. So let’s please get out of this habit of letting someone’s attitude get in the way of judging an athlete, namely, Tim Tebow.
3. The media is not objective; not even on their best day.
I sit here before you today, a quasi-member of the media. And as such, I still have no problem saying that we are not objective. Objectivity has boundaries, requirements and associations that the media can only wish it partook in. For example, CNN is supposed to be the most objective news entity on television. However, in their quest to be objective, they let both sides (left and right) say their peace, no matter how ludicrous one side may be. So even if the right is standing up for what’s good and pure, and the left is lying and propagandizing, CNN still allows each side to have their equal say and analyzes the validity in each statement. In a world where objectivity is defined as an “external reality,” CNN’s approach to objectivity does not hold up.
And neither does that of ESPN, Yahoo, Fox Sports or NBC Sports. They all have their columnists, their reporters and TV gas bags that say and do things so far out of the realm of objectivity that it puts any analysis of anything ambiguous into question. From covering sexual assault charges to matters of race, or even when those two topics intertwine, it’s hard to sit back and see any of those sports reporting entities as being purely objective.
It makes sense though. The media is run by people, and as I mentioned before, people are inconsistent. So when one media entity feels one way about Tebow, and another entity feels the opposite way, it’s clear that no one is being objective. As we sit here today, a day after Tebow proved both his critics and his believers right in some of the worst 57 minutes of football ever played in a win, we can’t dare cry that the media is being objective. To feel one way or another about Tebow’s performance, a reporter would likely have to rely on his incoming feelings about Tebow. That inherently makes their assessment of yesterday’s game subjective, and while that may be unavoidable, it’s that lack of objectivity that makes Tebow the polarizing figure that he is.
4. Football players are forever and always, an inconsistent body representative of the nation as a whole.
If people are inconsistent, players are crazy. Forget about the fact football players do not mind running into each at the fastest speeds possible, knocking each other, suffering concussions and broken bones, but then are afraid of heights, dogs, needles or women, but they have other more pronounced inconsistencies as well.
Take for example the fact that most athletes will admit that some players cannot handle the pivotal moments of game-ending situations, however, you can’t find a single athlete worth his paycheck to say that they have ever succumb to the moment in the 4th quarter of a close game.
Carry that inconsistency over to Tebow, and you have what we have today, players on the Broncos roster polarized by Tebow’s play. Brandon Lloyd got traded out of Denver because he was so against having Tebow in a as a starter, yet some of his teammates love everything Tebow represents as a player and a person. And last year, Broncos General Manager John Elway would have led you to believe that Tebow was where this team was headed entering this NFL season, then they started Kyle Orton in Week 1. Now we enter NFL Week 8, and the players on Denver remain divided. It’s one thing for the media and the fans to be confused, but for the players, the coaches and the GM to be that close to the situation and still not be in agreement, it makes you wonder how fair we all are in our assessment of Tebow.
5. We do not believe in meritocracy unless we are talking about ourselves.
It sounds crazy that I am sitting here pointing out the flaws in myself and human behavior to show why a one-week removed third-string quarterback is being unfairly upheld and criticized. At the end of the day, Tebow’s polarizing stature is the result of limited data. Once the data set grows, we will get a better sense of who he is, and the consensus will either be that he is a winner or he is a loser.
Even once the data is in, why do we find it so easy to judge an athlete, even when the data is in our favor? It could be because we as individuals constantly feel judged, and we find it easy to cast aspersions about an athlete that is used to the public light, even though we do not know that person.
But let’s say Tebow turns out to be a sub-.500 quarterback, his completion percentage is barely average and he never even sniffs 3,000 yards in his next 16 starts, some people would still stand behind him and say that he deserves more chances.
On the flip side, if Tebow was an out-right winner, with mediocre stats in the 1st through 3rd quarters, but won his team games late, many people would accuse him of being limited, lucky and incapable of consistency.
It’s called confirmation bias. No matter what the situation is, if the stats allow for an out, people will find an out that backs up their viewpoint—after all, who can’t lie with statistics these days?
In a true meritocracy, there is no room for debate as to who the better performer is. In sales, if you sale the most, you win salesman of the year. In school, the kid with most correct answers on the multiple choice test sets the curve. And obstetrics, the obstetrician that delivers the most and healthiest babies wins obstetrician of the year. At lest 2 out of 3 of those are right. But you get my point!
Our sports are supposed to be the ultimate meritocracy too, right? Everyone wants to play their best players, don’t they? Unless of course the season is over and you want the #1 pick in the draft. Unless of course, you have a senior on the team and there is sophomore that’s only a tad bit worst than him. Unless of course the shortstop’s dad is the coach of the little league team. Unless of course, you invested a lot in that free agent, even if he isn’t working out for you. Unless of course—you get my drift.
And let’s not even talk about the fact when we don’t really know who the better player is.
My point is that even in a meritocracy, the better player doesn’t always get the start, and sometimes, we don’t even know who the better player is. As fans, there are few circumstances where should not be rooting for the better player to get the chance, as if we were ever being pitted against someone else for an opportunity, we definitely want the meritocracy to win out in the assessment of us.
So why did Denver fans cry for Tebow in preseason even though we know Kyle Orton is better?
It’s an inconsistency, but it’s who we are. We want to be judged based on our merits, but we don’t mind playing politics, future and nuance with other people’s lives. The people who want to judge Tebow on his merits probably aren’t saying too much of anything right now, which leaves those prejudging the young quarterback to take the stage. With the public’s inconsistencies, the media’s lack of data, confirmation bias and the ever-present subjugation of athletes, Tebow had become the most polarizing, third-stringer in the history of sports. And thanks to the people who made Tebow a topic of discussion in a debate that he had no business being in at this point in his career, Tebow is now the most polarizing first-string quarterback in the NFL.
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