Tim Tebow Is to Football What Michael Jordan Was to Baseball

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Tim Tebow Is to Football What Michael Jordan Was to Baseball
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

It might seem like blasphemy to draw similarities between the basketball icon Michael Jordan and the professional football washout Tim Tebow, but in the light of a baseball diamond, the comparison helps illuminate Tebow's present—and perhaps his future.   

There are, of course, striking differences between Tebow's generally surprising, though not universally unexpected, NFL stage of unemployment, and Jordan's completely astounding decision in 1993 to walk away from the NBA to make an unlikely run at Major League Baseball.

Tebow's exile is out of his hands; Jordan's exit was self-imposed.

Tebow is powerless, waiting on a magnanimous team to offer him an NFL home. Jordan left the NBA of his own accord, when he was king of that professional castle.

Like all analogies, then, this one is imperfect, but there are revealing parallels.

There is, for instance, a mystical dimension that may help explain why neither athlete took (in Jordan's case) or has taken (in Tebow's) what seems like a self-evident path.

Jordan's shocking decision came while he was reeling from the murder of his father, whose body had been discovered after a three week absence in the summer of 1992.

Many fans and coaches likely would have understood if Jordan had decided that these emotionally excruciating conditions called for a hiatus from the NBA. That would have made sense.

But a sudden career change—one which would provide only minimal respite on minor league buses, shuttling from one AA baseball venue to the next—strained credulity.    

Jordan, though, had a singular focus that blocked out contrary visions for his life at that time.

Before the tragic death of Michael's father, the two had discussed the possibility of Michael trying out in the MLB, which was his father's dream for his son. In an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary called Jordan Rides the Bus, Jordan claims he could sense the spiritual presence of his father throughout his Minor League baseball journey. It was that relationship that propelled him to work tirelessly against both the odds and naysayers in an attempt to become a MLB player.

Tebow's relationship to what Christians of his ilk call a "heavenly father" is so well-known it would normally need no further elaboration. But understanding that religious commitment may help explain why Tebow is not responding to his release from the Jets, and the unwelcoming silence of other NFL teams, with what some football observers believe is an obvious solution to his plight: change positions.

Many claim that if Tebow were to switch from QB to some less glamorous occupation like tight end or full back, he would not only find a more appropriate channel for his skill-set, but he would also court a slew of NFL suitors drawn to his unquestioned athletic ability and work ethic. 

For many, Tebow's refusal to explore such a change seems myopic at best and obstinately prideful at worst.

But like Jordan's decision to play baseball in honor of and in continual spiritual relationship with his late father, Tebow's positional intransigence seems tied to a perceived higher and spiritual plane.

Tebow's football aspirations spring from what be believes are otherworldly impulses to make a this-worldly impact. He has been dogged in his insistence that God has given him a platform of mercy to help brighten the lives of the sick and downtrodden, people who need to believe that they can overcome obstacles. There are multiple indications that Tebow sees his own life narrative as exemplifying such resilience, especially in the face of other people's doubt. Consider the following commercial:

Tebow has attributed his substantial successes to a divine plan that has, until now, seemed to follow a linear pattern: triumph over external opposition and doubt with internal persistence and faith.

Tebow is not guaranteed success with a position change. When Jordan traded fade-aways for at-bats, some thought it was an act of arrogance. After all, Jordan was walking into a sport he had not played consistently since high school, and into a realm where people were toiling with single-minded and single-sport focus.

Tebow's transition to a position he has never played could be similarly rocky with some similar perceptions of hubris.

Neither does a change of leagues, rather than positions, guarantee success since Tebow would presumably have to correct or compensate for the same problems with accuracy he has had in his brief NFL career.

But what if one of those two options were his only hope?

One thing Tebow clearly shares with Jordan is a fiery competitive nature and diligent work ethic. By the time Jordan decided to return to basketball, he was hitting a respectable and (considering his circumstances) even remarkable .250 at an elite minor league baseball level. How much further could he have gone?

That's not a sad question in Jordan's case, considering that his brief baseball foray turned out to be a temporary diversion from an even higher ascent to NBA glory.

But Tebow believes he's called to just one sport, so the question of how much further Tebow could have gone in professional football is a much more pressing question at the moment (at least for those who want to see him succeed). The answer may depend on whether Tebow can convince himself that what he believes to be his divinely-scripted life narrative has had a quick and sudden change in plot. 

According to the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the "Old Testament"), God once used a donkey (as "ass" in biblical language) to speak instructions to a prophet (see the book of Numbers chapter 22 for the story of "Balaam's ass").

Is it time for Tebow to stop using expert criticism to fuel his persistence in continuing with the same path? Could he be convinced that the voices of his critics are carrying divine insight about a necessary change in his career? 

Jordan returned to the NBA after a valiant and no-doubt humbling season of minor league baseball. Still, he continued to be a notorious trash talker.

Tebow will need to exercise significant humility to leave the NFL for another league (at least temporarily), or to change positions, but he could still offer some God-fearing trash talk in the process.

Imagine Tebow turning to Merril Hoge and saying "You have been an ass (in the biblical sense, of course), and I thank you."

Be like Mike, Tim. Do what you're best at. Whatever that may be.

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