"If you are fortunate enough to spend five minutes around Tim Tebow, your life is better for it."
It's a certain nominee for the best broadcast fellatio in a very young 2009.
While Thom Brenneman normally strikes me as a good broadcaster, his love-fest with the Florida quarterback has become a springboard for internet jokes and commentary—and rightly so.
But there's something deeper in his comment that warrants exploration. To many, Tim Tebow really does live on a pedestal. Words like "grounded," "mature," and even "saintly" fly off the silver tongues of former interviewers.
You see, in modern America, image is everything and Tebow's currently lives in that special class of the All-American unblemished leader alongside the likes of Lou Gehrig and Roger Staubach, George Washington, and a host of John Wayne characters.
It's an anthropological reality that societies need their legendary heroes, and the probing criticism of our modern media age has made them hard to create.
We're literally starving for icons.
Our recent baseball stars, save a few from the 80s like Tony Gwynn or Cal Ripken, have the slight taste of steroid-laden dishonesty. The NBA has tarnished the reputation of its all-time great and now features a troupe of narcissists. The NFL has Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, both of whom have lost that magic around their image due to negative exposure in the media (Brady through his personal life; Manning through his clumsy commercials), and a criminal-of-the-week feature on ESPN's Bottom Line.
But then there's Tim Tebow.
In Tebow, our media seems to see a bright, shining starlet of humanity, a young man all want as their son or son-in-law, a leader and energetic achiever with humility, that commodity so rare in high-achievers.
And so, they've made him college football's favored son.
But then there's First Baptist Church of Jacksonville. One of those mega-super-churches that sprung up in the 80s that has swallowed local churches to gain in mass since, FBC Jacksonville is one of the largest Southern Baptist congregations in America with 28,000 members.
Tim Tebow happens to be one, and a rather devoted member at that.
In 2002, FBC Jacksonville pastor Jerry Vines called Mohammed (you know, the key prophet in Islam) "a demon-possessed pedophile." Tebow, for the record, spoke at Vines' retirement service and signed Bibles.
FBC Jacksonville is the type of Falwellian church that often draws satire or anger. Its current organization, led by Mac Brunson, has apparently turned neofascist. Brunson himself claims that God's Sacred Will is the reason for the bad economy and high gas prices.
According to Brunson, we should all be thankful to Jesus that we don't make more money, because it would put us more into debt (I swear I'm not making this up). All while telling parishioners the value of economic humility and—in a down economy, mind you—that they're "robbing God" by not paying back 10% of their income to his church, Bruson continues to live in a $970,000 house. He is, to the South Park-inclined, Eric Cartman as a minister, 40 years later.
What does this have to do with Tebow?
I'm not going to begrudge a man for his religious choice. I was raised in a conservative Christian church and my intent isn't to call out "cannibals" or "kool-aid drinkers" or whatever other dribble the vitriolic atheist sect uses these days.
The problem isn't with Tim Tebow. It's with the media.
Here's three names for you: Barack Obama, Reggie White, and Troy Smith.
Obama was called out by many, including many of those Sunday-goers in Jacksonville, for sitting in a church with Jeremiah Wright at the helm. While being leader of the free world and All-American quarterback have different standards, why does Tebow get a complete pass for his membership in a crazy church?
Reggie White was, like Tebow, a devout Baptist. While being so genuine that he became a minister and wrote a book on faith, White was often looked at as a pariah in the media, especially after he was quoted calling homosexuality a sin.
Outspoken, sure, but there's no difference between the fervent nature of White's faith and Tebow's, and to glorify the one who nods while scoring the one talking is hypocritical at best.
And then there's Troy Smith. In 2006, Smith won the Heisman Trophy, capping a fantastic rags-to-riches story. The whole story was under-followed that year, save for maybe Pat Forde's excellent write-up on ESPN (and it's rare that I use "Pat Forde" and "excellent" in the same sentence).
Tim Tebow has gotten more positive coverage than all of these men, and for what? For being a humble, devout Christian with a pretty smile?
A simplistic mind would chalk this up to racism—that college football fans and the media decided to push the white hero and find faults with the prospective black ones.
But that's too easy. We've had charismatic black heroes who've had positive images developed in the media that gloss over faults—Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron, Magic Johnson and Jerry Rice.
What's happened, instead, is that modern college football reporting (and sports in general) has become so rife with hackneyed criticisms and microscopic evaluations, lame jokes and personal-life reporting, that we have, in essence, become hungry for a genuine hero.
In Tebow, the media found someone with childlike innocence in a sea of money and late-night partying. Desperate to have someone who can live up to the imaginary standards of old, they've collectively decided not to even ask questions.
They've wrecked so many positive illusions they'll now do anything to keep one that won't destroy itself.
Find a college football coach who hasn't been stained with harsh words or acts. It's damned near impossible. It's rare for a player to gain national prominence, and even rarer for one to do so with no baggage, real or imaginary.
Adrian Peterson had a jailed father and two-year-old illegitimate daughter. Matt Leinart, too, had a child under circumstances much of the nation disapproves. Joey Harrington had Phil Knight paying his bills. Carson Palmer underachieved for two years. Reggie Bush has an NCAA investigation. Troy Smith had a criminal record.
In Tebow, they found a pure, hyped high school recruit who has delivered exactly what he was supposed to for three seasons. He also happens to be a devout Christian who keeps his mouth shut off-the-field.
Translation? Football Jesus.
Keep the myth alive. Everyone else has been "crucified" and we need it.
Must embrace a hero who doesn't destroy himself.
Kindly ignore the man behind the green curtain, the preacher who makes less sense than Jeremiah Wright, in the church that borders on cult-like behavior.
Because in the end, image is everything, and if you pretend the blind, happy nodding to the irrationality isn't there, it won't be, and meeting Tebow will still change your life, even if his Jesus hates Muslims and causes General Motors to go bankrupt.
Such is the power of the gilded pedestal—that we have to ignore things to keep someone up there.
Enjoy it, Tim.
Just don't ever change, or speak publicly on exactly what Lord and Savior you believe in.
You would crush the spirits of far too many admiring reporters.
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