Time for some straight talk on the NFL’s top faith-based quarterback

This just in:

CBS Sports game analyst Randy Cross believes Tebow haters are bashing him for his outspoken Christian opinions.

“People, especially the media, root against him because of what he stands for,” said Cross.

The 3-time Super Bowl champ added: “My personal belief is there are people in the media, people in the stands, who are predisposed to see a guy like that fail…Just because he’s so public about the way he feels.”

My gut response is to mock Cross for being a barking gongbat. I could say things like “yes, it’s true, America hates Christians. Especially the media. I mean, the mere 85% of Americans who identify themselves as Christian constitutes an almost invisible minority. I know, I know, the president is a Christian and so is the VP and well over 90% of our Congressional representatives are Christian and the Supreme Court features seven Christians and all of our major presidential candidates in both major parties for as far back as anybody can remember have been Christians. And almost all of our past presidents were Christians (you have to go all the way back to Lincoln to find one we can even debate over). Hell, even sports franchises are building their operations around the evangelical litmus test. Still, you can make statistics say anything.

“And sweet hell, on top of this he’s saddled with the crippling disadvantage of being a white male. He’s like a modern-day Job.”

That said, there’s no doubt that Timmy’s PDPs (that’s public displays of piety) get on some folks’ nerves, and it’s also no secret that I’m one of them. So there’s a grain of truth in that part of Cross’s formulation, at least. I mean, hypothetically, if three out of 309 million Americans “root against him because of what he stands for,” then that means Cross is technically correct. Stupid and irrelevant, perhaps, but correct.

My larger problem, though, is this: Cross is subtly propagating a sinister little meme that I’m hearing more and more of in the last week or two, as Tebow’s lack of talent as an NFL quarterback has migrated him further and further down the depth chart. Depending on who’s talking, this myth takes a couple of forms. First, everybody hates Tebow because of his religion. And second, this prejudice is why he isn’t being given a chance to show that he’s truly a fantastic QB on the field.

You don’t hear this last argument being worded exactly that way, for the most part, but listen to Denver sports talk as much as I do and you come to understand that 90% of the conversations about Tebow are being conducted in code. When people are talking about why they love Timmy, they don’t say outright that’s it’s teh Jesus, but the religiosity is the only way of explaining the things they do say. Despite how people talk, Tebow isn’t the only “good kid” in camp. He’s not the only one who’s strong in what he believes. He’s not the only one who works his ass off or who has had to overcome obstacles. He’s not the only one with “intangibles” and “character.” And I’ve already explained in detail what’s going on when they trot out the ultimate code word, “faith.” (It’s not about race, either, because a lot of the other hard-working Christians who have overcome obstacles and have great intangibles are white.) So when the chatter turns to why he isn’t in the Hall of Fame yet, it’s not surprising to hear even more code from a vast, paranoid religious majority that seems to believe the government is going to start rounding up Baptists and shipping them off to concentration camps next week.

There’s so much wrong with what Cross and his ilk believe that it’s hard to know where to start. But I’m going to try.

On point one, that people hate Tebow because he’s a Christian:

  • As noted above, everybody’s Christian. I can’t speak to what’s in people’s hearts, but my best guess is that the percentage of NFL players and coaches who claim to be Christian is even higher than 85%. I may be wrong, but I have seen no evidence to suggest that it’s lower. Listen to players talk. Watch the prayer huddles after the game. And think about the culture of conformity that attends any activity involving intense male subcultures. If I were going to hate on Christian athletes because of their religion, I’d have to stop watching American sports entirely.
  • I don’t know who all these millions of people hating Tebow are, because his jersey was the #1 seller for much of 2010 (he finished third for the year). That doesn’t mean nobody hates him, but it does suggest that he’s not exactly Public Enemy Number One.
  • As for the idea that the media hates Tebow, well, that one made me laugh so hard I nearly swallowed my own nose. Randy, the media I’m familiar with worships Tim Tebow about as hard as Tim worships the Lord, and why not – he’s great for their business. I may not have a full list here, but best I can tell he’s been featured on the cover of ESPN, Men’s Fitness, Sports Illustrated, GQ, 5280, The Beckett Football Magazine and Sporting News. And if you’re keeping score at home, ask yourself this: how many times in the past three years has Tebow been the subject of some story or other on your television? Good, now how many of those, percentagewise, were negative stories? In my case, the answers are “millions” and “less than 2%.”
  • Oh, and by the way, Randy, you’re “the media.” Just saying.

On the second point, that he’s not getting a fair shot because of his religion:

  • Let’s just say this straight away: if Tim Tebow had been your basic Catholic or mainline Protestant who pursued his beliefs without insisting on reminding us every time he opened his mouth (or every time he appeared on camera with the Bible verse glare patches under his eyes) he’d have been drafted in the fifth round. If he’d been a vocal atheist or agnostic or, the gods forbid, a Pagan or a Muslim or a Hindu, he’d have been lucky to talk himself into a tryout as an undrafted free agent. If you don’t think Skippy McDaniel was overly impressed by the player’s “character” you weren’t paying attention.
  • Rick Reilly dismembered Tebow’s game in a much publicized column a couple of weeks ago. Which is what happens when you know a little about football and you watch closely. When Tebow drops back and the receiver runs a seven-yard out, there’s a chance that the ball will be underthrown. There’s a chance it will be behind the receiver. There’s a good chance he’ll hit someone on the sidelines in the numbers and if you’re in the front row or two of the stands you might get a souvenir. There’s also a chance that he’ll hit the receiver, although his statistics don’t recommend that you bet heavily on this outcome.
  • More likely, he’s going to be unable to find an open man because he can’t read defenses (he was never really asked to do anything like this at the high school or college levels, and he has the same kinds of problems that other QBs coming from spread and running systems have had). No surprise there at all. In a recent interview with one of the sports stations here, one of the Broncos defensive players admitted that when Tebow is the QB, the defense plays differently – they crowd the running lanes and wait for him to break down and gallop into their waiting arms. He didn’t say it that negatively, but I’ve gotten pretty good at interpreting code lately.
  • It’s also a pure joy to hear Tebow’s supporters talking about his ability to “make things happen with his feet.” Yeah, he raised hell at Florida, but there he was surrounded by talent that was usually superior to what was on the other side of the ball. However, his 40 time is in the 4.7 range, which isn’t special by NFL QB standards. Never mind trying to outrun some of the league’s many quick-footed linebackers – there are any number of defensive linemen who are faster than he is, and Head Coach John Fox can’t be terribly excited about handing the reins of the offense over to a guy who might get cheetahed by a nose tackle.
  • If you think Tebow isn’t getting a fair chance you’re hallucinating. You don’t think everyone in the Doncs’ organization would kill to have a squeaky-clean Man of Faith® as the face of the franchise? Think of the marketing potential. Think of the money. Denver is an exceptionally Christian market (and I say that as a guy who grew up in North Carolina, where some neighborhoods have more churches than convenience store). Lots of extremely white suburban megachurch types here, plus a huge Latino Catholic population that feckin’ loves Broncos football. These nuances are not lost on the likes of Pat Bowlen and his front office people. The only guy who might get more consideration than Tebow, despite having even less in the way of obvious experience and qualifications, would be Jesus Christ himself, should he return with an eye toward a football career. So if Tebow is the third-stringer, bet your ass it’s because he’s given the team nothing at all to hang its hat on. (And if you’ve watched him play, either in the pre-season or in three starts last year, you know that’s exactly what has happened.)
  • In the end, you hear so much talk about Tim Tebow’s “intangibles.” The main reason is fairly simple: he has no tangibles to talk about. He can’t read defenses. He doesn’t understand how to run a pro passing offense because he’s never run a system remotely like it. And he cannot pass accurately. Period.

So, in summary, I guess I’d answer Randy Cross thusly:

  1. Tim Tebow is hardly being oppressed. He’s gotten every chance in the world and then some, and there’s a great argument to be made that this is because of his relentless public religiosity. I can think of no other quarterback in history at this level who has been afforded more opportunities despite such glaring limitations.
  2. Those who are sick of Tebow, either as a player or a person, have valid reasons.

Sure, I admit that I personally dislike being flogged by his religious arrogance and presumptuousness. But do you have any idea what a small minority I am, both in general and on this issue in particular?

Randy Cross might do a little math, too. Because we have the hard data on how many Christians there are in the US. If as many people are put off by the 24/7/4ever proselytizing as he seems to think, then it doesn’t take a mathematical genius to conclude that a lot of those who are fed up with Tebow are themselves Christians. That means something, and “they root against him for what he stands for” isn’t it.

I believe in Tim Tebow’s right to believe in whatever he chooses. I also believe in the free speech rights that allow me and everybody else to weigh in on the subject.

I don’t believe that your religion qualifies you to be a quarterback in the NFL, though, and if more people are coming around to my way of thinking then I’m glad to hear it.

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