Tim Tebow Rule: The NCAA Bans Eye Black "Messages"

Todd KaufmannSenior Writer IFebruary 15, 2010

Every Saturday morning during the college football season, I wake up just in time to see ESPN's Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit make their picks for the day and Corso don the always popular "head gear."

That gets my college football Saturday started off on the right foot. It gets me laughing and gets me in the mood for some good football throughout the day.

No matter how much my bride-to-be wishes I wouldn't spend most of the day in front of the television—but I digress.

One of the players I've enjoyed watching throughout his career was Tim Tebow, now the former starting quarterback of the Florida Gators.

I enjoyed watching what he could do when he had the football in his hands. He had the ability to thread the needle to one of his receivers or tuck the ball and be tough enough to get those extra yards needed and take some big hits in the process.

Something I never noticed was the eye black he wore under his eyes during every game. I noticed that there was writing on them, but I never really cared to look that hard to find out what it said.

Some of you may remember former USC and current New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush writing the numbers "619" under his eyes, giving a "shout-out" of sorts to his hometown of San Diego. I don't remember anyone giving him a hard time about that during his days as a Trojan.

Then along comes Tim Tebow with his usual Bible scriptures he writes on top of his eye black, and all of a sudden, the complaints start rolling in—so much so that the NCAA has stepped in and banned any player from writing anything on his eye black.

I'm curious about one thing, however. Would the NCAA have stepped in if Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor hadn't put an ill-timed ode to Michael Vick on his eye black? While I understand Pryor being a fan of Vick's, his explanation of why he did it didn't exactly come out right.

"I always looked up to Mike Vick and I always will," Pryor said during a post-game press conference. "Because I still think he is one of the best quarterbacks. I love Mike Vick."

Do you know those moments when you breathe a sigh of relief, thinking, "Hey, that was a great answer, better than I thought he would say," but still have that hunch that something stupid is about to be said? This was one of those moments.

Had Pryor stopped with that quote, most of us wouldn't have given it a second thought. Unfortunately, Pryor didn't stop there. "Not everybody is the perfect person in the world," Pryor said of Vick. "Everyone does—kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me. I just feel that people need to give him a chance."

No, Terrelle, not everyone on this earth kills people or steals from people or murders people, and I don't think it's right that college athletes put their ode to people who do.

So now, the NCAA has stepped in and has banned any and all writing on any player's eye black.

New NCAA rule: Requiring players who wear “eye black” to use solid black with no words, logos, numbers, or other symbols.

But here's where my problem comes in. Why can it not be limited? Why a complete ban?  While I understand that the "freedom of speech" problem comes into the argument, shouldn't the NCAA allow coaches or athletic directors to enforce a "limited ban" on eye black? I know coaches don't want to be "eye black police," but make the punishment harsh enough on a violation, and I expect you won't have to worry about it.

There are those who would criticize Tim Tebow for "forcing his beliefs upon everybody" for not only the Bible verses he writes under his eyes, but also more recently for the Super Bowl ad that he and his mother were a part of on Super Bowl Sunday.

Was Tebow really doing anyone any harm or offending anyone by writing one piece of scripture? Has this country really become that touchy where we're offended by what one person believes?

While I understand that he is one of the more recognizable athletes in college sports, he's not forcing anyone to believe what he believes. The verse from John chapter three, verse 16 reads, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." It's a verse that gives one player strength to be who he is week in and week out.

Whether you choose to believe what he believes is completely up to you, but forcing the NCAA to make this rule based on the fact that some might not believe what he does seems a bit much to me.

While I understand that the NCAA is trying to avoid the potential for a rogue player or two to write something vulgar under their eyes, most would argue it's against a person's freedom of speech.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution reads: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This is where the NCAA runs into a few arguments. The first being "prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]," and the second being "abridging the freedom of speech."

Where the rumbles of this started was during the 2009 National Championship game where Tim Tebow had written the aforementioned "John 3:16" under his eyes and Google subsequently received over 90 million hits on that verse during the game.

That was Tebow's freedom of religion, while Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor exercising his support of Michael Vick, no matter how ill-timed it may have been, was his freedom of speech.

Jeremy Fowler of the Orlando Sentinel seems to think that Tebow "forced" people to go search for that verse, though I didn't see Tebow holding a gun to anyone's head or holding a sign reading, "I'm forcing you to go research this verse."

For someone that's not pushing his belief on anyone or forcing anyone to look up the Bible verses under his eyes, I've yet to see any other college athlete come under the kind of fire that Tebow has.

Make no mistake—banning messages written on eye black will not stop players, college or professional, from making whatever statements they want to make. Just ask Chad Johnson or Chad Ochocinco or whatever he's going by these days.

So is the NCAA being overly cautious about this topic, or are they right in banning the possibilities, and are they opening the door to players arguing their right of free speech?

If you want my opinion, Tebow did nothing wrong or anything that I would deem offensive to anyone. He's not telling you what to believe but has no shame in believing the way he does, and I, for one, commend him for it.


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