I have been pondering the polarizing effect Tebow has had on the media, pundits, and so called experts. What has me confused is I have never seen an athlete who has shown or proven to be successful and a leader, who has generated this much disdain from the so called experts. Much of this post is my musings regarding the issue, so forgive me if it rambles somewhat, but lets go back to the beginning so to speak.
When I look at most professional athletes, I see guys that are selfish. In itself, I would say that professional athletes are bread this way and to some extent, you have to be a selfish person to succeed in professional athletics. From the time a player shows any promise, most guys are insulated in a bubble, things are taken care for them, they are told to focus on themselves, train, practice, get better. They are not expected to carry other commitments other than to themselves to improve as players. Guys play high school ball to be on a team, but for guys looking to make the NFL or any other professional sports league, the goal of the player is to get noticed (either by a college scout or professional scout) so they can get a scholarship offer or get drafted (MLB, NHL). The success of the team is somewhat secondary to these guys since their continued progression to a pro level ball is dictated by their abilities or potential, not based on the success of the team. Again when a player reaches the next level, skills and personnel improvement are considered the priority for most players, coaches use the idea of developing a player and making him successful on the field and hence benefiting the team. But how many players leave college for the NBA after one season, or head to the NFL after their third year. Little concern of the success of the team is given by these players as they strive to reach their personnel goals of getting paid for playing a sport. Even in the NFL, NBA, MLB, it is seen as more important to get paid first, then worry about winning. Guys sit out for better contracts, guys whine and demand trades in contract years if they don’t think their personnel stats are going to be at a level to get a significant raise (see Brandon Lloyd). Few regard the team as something other than where they work. I believe they most athletes want to win, but if it was a difference between winning as a team or getting paid more, most will take option II. This is where I think much of the hatred by current and ex-athletes stems from.
If Tebow is nothing, he is team first, personnel success second. He has been taught to be unselfish or maybe that is an innate trait. He cares about winning with the team over winning by himself. He understands that football champions are not necessarily the most talented team, it is the 53 men who work best together and are unselfish. I was listening to an interview with John Feinstein who has authored many sports books, his first book, Season on the Brink, details a season spent following Bobby Knight at Indiana. In the interview he relayed a story of Coach Knight reviewing the film from the 1st two Big 10 games of that season with his team (they had lost both), and him (Coach Knight) becoming more and more frustrated until he finally shut off the film and stood up in front of the team and said you will never win as a team because your are selfish people. He told the team how they had all gone over to the team Doctor’s house for Thanksgiving and the Doctor’s wife had worked all day to clean the house, make them dinner, and clean up, and make sure they were taken care of during Thanksgiving. He then asked if anyone had sent a thank you card to the Doctor’s wife, flowers, or called to say Thank you. No one raised a hand. He then went on to explain that if you lead selfish lives, you will be selfish on the court, and continue to fail as a team. This is where Tebow separates himself from most of his peers in my opinion. I truly believe he is unselfish in life and that allows for the unselfish play on the field. The examples of being unselfish of and on the field helps build and inspire the unselfish team mentality and hence success on the field, despite maybe not being the most talented.
It is these traits that goes against the grain of most professional athletes, I see guys like Chris Carter, Keyshawn Johnson, etc, defending selfish players and that Tebow success shines a bright light on their own selfish nature and that is the true bane of their animosity towards Tebow. They see someone who has gone out of his way to play unselfishly, to put team above all, and it ruins everything they had been taught.
For me the media’s disdain and fans, I think stems from the other elephant in the room, and that is Tebow’s outspoken faith. In some ways, I see Tim Tebow has this generation’s Muhammad Ali. I know many on this sight are too young to remember Ali, I myself only caught the very tail end of his professional career. Now I will agree Tebow and Ali are probably as diametrically different in a lot of ways, but what other professional athlete has had such polarizing views regarding them. People generally either loved Ali or hated him, and little had to do with his boxing abilities. It was Ali outspoken nature and political views that would turn people on or off to him. Now I will say that Tebow’s faith may not be as outwardly controversial as Ali’s conversion to Muslim and opposition to the Vietnam war, but to many in the main stream media and general population, I think Tebow’s faith makes them somewhat uncomfortable and in some ways there is an unspoken resentment of it (although few would dare speak it). But what other athlete since Ali has transcended sports as much as Tebow do to his work off the field? Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan may have had more “global” appeal, but their popularity was always due to their on field performance, not what they did off the court or course. I think the nature of Tebow’s popularity due to his humanitarian efforts and outspoken faith may have more to do with the general animosity with members in the media and fans than his actual on field production.
So in the end, I don’t know if there will be anything that Tebow can do on or off the field that will diminish the polarizing effect he has had. And what makes Tebow remarkable is that there appears to be little to no concern regarding any of the negative detractors, in many ways I think his detractors help fuel his passion and commitment to the success of the team and his unselfish nature (another similarity with Ali IMO). Well if you made it through these musings, I appreciate it.
As always, Go Broncos.