I imagine that somewhere in the Colorado suburbs, a harried mother is lifting a fork toward a reluctant elementary schooler, hissing through clenched teeth, “C’mon. Tim Tebow wants you to eat your vegetables.” And I’m sure he does. If asked politely, he’d probably make an appearance in their kitchen with a glass of milk, an orthodontically enhanced smile and a passage from Corinthians. After everyone’s plates were cleaner than his reputation, he’d politely excuse himself, returning home to spend the evening hand-carving a set of wooden prosthetics for a limbless orphan.
I’m only half-kidding. He’d probably opt for Galatians instead. But the very real possibility of that scenario is why Tebow has spent the past two seasons as the NFL’s most intensely scrutinized, incessantly criticized second-string quarterback … and now he can be the most incessantly criticized starter.
It should be impossible for anyone to dislike Tebow, the person. He tweets individual fans to thank them for coming to his book signings, he takes Special Olympics participants to rock concerts, and is deeply involved with the foundation that wears his name, the one that raises money for orphanages and pediatric cancer centers.
So what does he get in return? A @WhyTebowSucks twitter account, infrequently updated websites such as TebowHaters.com and TimmyTebowSucks.com and an Official “I Hate Tim Tebow” Facebook page. There was an ESPN “Outside the Lines” piece that spent 10 minutes reminding everyone how polarizing he is. Even Hulk Hogan took an afternoon away from taping an episode of his wrestling dwarf reality show to bash Tebow on "SportsNation."
Tebow is, obviously, a good guy. A great guy. But he’s also been propped up as the personification of virtue, spending the past five years as an archetype more than an athlete. That’s not to diminish Tebow's athletic abilities — he’s a first-round draft pick who’s built like a bomb shelter — but he’s been put in a position to attract additional criticism, a different, darker kind of denunciation than he’d get if we knew nothing of his life beyond those mile-high sidelines.
The NFL’s other backup-turned-starters don’t generate this type of negativity. There’s never this kind of eye-rolling reaction to, say, Minnesota’s Christian Ponder, so we’re left to — and you know EXACTLY what I’m going to say here — ponder the Christian.
The personal attacks and angry facial expressions that follow Tebow seem to have less to do with Denver’s 1-4 record than they do with Romans 1:16, which reads “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.” That’s one of the verses Tebow inked beneath his eyes at Florida, during that season when his eyeblack had more Scripture than the bedside table at an airport Sheraton.
I'd be exaggerating if I described myself as a Tim Tebow fan. Despite the St. Christopher medal suffocating in the back of my glove box, I don’t consider myself religious; the closest I get to Jesus is a middle-of-the-night airing of "The Big Lebowski." But I do sympathize with Tebow for the slings and arrows he endures, including the endless examination of his beliefs.
Want an example? At the 2009 SEC Media Day, Tebow had to respond to inquiries about his sex life, respectfully fielding the kind of questions Ben Roethlisberger hired a lawyer to avoid.
Although Tebow doesn't invoke the apostles in interviews often as he did in college, his detractors often cite the fact that he "forces" his Christianity on them. That isn't the case at all; he simply is his faith and, at this point, anyone who follows his Twitter feed, attends his public appearances or listens to his testimonials shouldn't be surprised when they don't involve his version of "The Aristocrats".
Then there are those who sit with their hands hovering expectantly over their keyboards, just waiting for what they'll see as his inevitable misstep. They want to catch him sneaking into The Human Centipede or illegally downloading The Human Centipede or actually building a Human Centipede. They want him to be exposed as a phony, a fraud or — to borrow a word from the New Testament — a hypocrite. I don't see that happening. Just because Tebow has character doesn't mean he's playing one.
But yeah, sometimes he comes across as the Gallant side of every Highlights magazine cartoon ever. Yeah, the constant platitudes for his teammates and pledges to work harder and cloyingly positive attitude can make you shout "CAN IT, DUDLEY DO-RIGHT" at your television screen, assuming you're old enough to remember either Bullwinkle or Brendan Frasier's career.
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