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There are athletes who generate outlandish reactions that are disproportionate to their actual abilities.
In other words, have you heard of Tim Tebow?
Let there be no doubt, a lot of people love them some Tim Tebow.
This is easy to understand. He was a big star at the University of Florida, where he won a Heisman Trophy and was part of two national titles. He played a physical, exciting style. He wasn’t a great NFL QB, but he won a playoff game.
Mostly though, he’s a nice guy, a charity-based guy, a do-something guy. Last week he and his foundation partnered with the state of Tennessee to fight human trafficking. Who could oppose that?
He’s a motivational speaker, doing it in an uber-positive, you-can-do-it kind of way. And, of course, he’s very public about his faith, which is hardly unique among pro athletes, but is appealing to those who share it.
Other fans don’t like him, but in a reasonable fashion. Maybe they hated the Gators. Maybe they didn’t like the hype he got. Maybe they are part of the “stick to sports” crowd and weren’t fans of the Bible verses on the eyeblack back in college. Of course, “stick to sports” is usually a sliding scale of hypocrisy.
All of this is mostly fair. Sports are about heroes and heels and each fan gets to choose who is who. When Tebow lasted just three seasons — and just 14 starts at QB — in the NFL, his critics got what they wanted.
There is another segment though who all but lost it when word broke that Tebow, now 33, had recently worked out for Jacksonville. The Jags, led now by Tebow’s old college coach Urban Meyer, are considering offering him a one-year deal (which is really nothing more than a camp invite) even though he hasn’t appeared in a game since 2013 and hasn’t been in camp since 2015.
Why did this anger so many people? We can only theorize, and will later. But first: Should it have?
No. It’s not like Meyer gave him $150 million and said he was the Week 1 starter at quarterback. We’re talking about one of the 90 camp invites for a 1-15 team led by a rookie head coach. The Jags' tight ends combined to catch two touchdown passes last year. How many of the angry masses can name one of them, let alone the position depth chart?
This is a low-risk gamble.
Besides, it’s not unusual for coaches to bring along veterans they are comfortable with — and Meyer certainly is with Tebow. It’s not unusual for veterans to get signed for their leadership or attitude — 38-year-old running back Frank Gore was with the New York Jets, after all, last season.
The NBA is a different sport, but the Miami Heat have kept veteran good guy Udonis Haslem around the last few years because of what he means in a locker room. The 40-year-old isn’t really a player anymore — he appeared in one game, the regular-season finale, this year. So what? Miami thinks he’s worth it.
Besides, wilder stuff has happened in the NFL.
In 2015, Seattle brought in Nate Boyer, a 34-year-old Army Green Beret and decorated war hero in a long-shot attempt to make it as an undersized long snapper. Boyer was mostly there for who he was, not whether he’d actually play in the NFL.
In 2004, Minnesota spent a camp invite on WWE sensation Brock Lesnar even though he hadn’t played football since high school. In 2019, the New York Giants had Austin Droogsma, a massive shot putter at their rookie minicamp.
In 2013, Indianapolis made a run at a giant Icelander who’d never played football named Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson — you might know him as “Thor” from the “World’s Strongest Man” competitions or “The Mountain” from the show “Game of Thrones.”
Whatever. It’s all fun.
Tebow is a big, strong athlete. Maybe he can be useful. His years of playing minor league baseball mean he hasn’t taken the punishment of a normal NFL veteran his age. Tight end is partially a macro skill position, so time off isn’t necessarily disqualifying.
Mostly though, Tebow is being given the opportunity to humiliate himself. He’s more likely to fail than succeed. Visions of him getting blown up trying to block or dropping a pass he should have caught are very possible. He doesn’t care.
He wants to give it a try … on the worst team in football. Good for him.
So what’s the problem?
While Tebow’s possible chance is being compared to Colin Kaepernick not getting a chance, that’s a stretch. You can believe Kaepernick was unfairly treated by the NFL and see that these two situations aren’t really that comparable.
Tebow, to me, is more like Cam Newton. Not as players, since Newton is exponentially better and never quit football to try another sport. He has earned every opportunity.
Like Tebow, though, Newton often elicits outsized negative reactions despite having done relatively little that is controversial. He mostly plays really hard and really well. Yet everything from metrics to comment sections will show wild responses to him.
Neither he, nor Tebow, is perfect. They are each proud and unapologetic about who they are. Maybe that’s what creates groups of people who dislike them so much, or are uncomfortable with them.
If you drew a Venn diagram of the Tebow/Newton haters, it’s possible there is no overlap. They are two sides of the same coin.
But what’s the coin? Why does it even exist?
Each member of the Tebow hate club has their own reason. My best guess is something that plagues a lot of American society. There is an old saying that my enemy’s enemy is my friend. In this case, maybe it is “my enemy’s favorite player is my enemy.”
If you dislike, for whatever reason, the people who love Tebow, then perhaps you hate Tebow even if there is little to no reason to hate Tebow. Same with Newton.
Maybe there isn’t a single perfect answer.
Something is driving this stuff, though, because the NFL is currently overwhelmed by a possible camp invitation to a backup tight end for a lousy team. Then again, being offended by something happening somewhere by someone has become our national, bipartisan pastime. Bigger than the NFL, even.
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