Tim Tebow: A bystander in our contemptuous culture

I didn’t see Tim Tebow’s latest heroics in real-time. When Tebow scampered for a 20-yard touchdown that put the Broncos ahead of the Jets 17-13 with less than a minute remaining Thursday evening, I was sleeping in a window seat 30,000 feet above somewhere in the Midwest. I caught the first 30 minutes of the Jets-Broncos sludge-fest in a D.C. airport bar and boarded my flight knowing that we had a distinct possibility of witnessing another Tebow Triumph considering the first half of football produced a combined six points.

So when I flicked on my iPhone after landing well past midnight on the West Coast – long after the Broncos had gone home and Denver had fell silent for the night – I wasn’t surprised to read what had transpired while I snored in a metal canister above the clouds. On a night when the Jets contained Tebow for 55 minutes, they all of a sudden couldn’t. Tebow’s late-game magic – or the “anti LeBron” as some snarky souls on Twitter referred to it – had occurred again. The Broncos climbed to 5-5 in the AFC West. They will be tied for the division lead if the Raiders lose this weekend.

It’s an inspiring story, a good story, and yet we will miss it. We are missing it. We’ll continue to miss it because of our perpetual cynicism, the same cynicism that forces us to wrongly dramatize the unspectacular.

The Tebow mania that dominates talk radio and television shows is the product of a contemptuous culture, one empowered by rioting voices that fight to be the loudest. The pain we feel from 24/7 Tebow talk is self-inflicted simply because truth and perspective don’t sell in this world like sensationalism and false hope.

Here’s a detached assessment of Tebow, free from media hyperbole: He’s a 24-year-old quarterback desperately trying to adapt and improve so that he can enjoy a sustained career in the NFL; most doubt him because he came into the league with unconventional skills for his position and hasn’t done enough to prove that he can survive in the professional game.

He appears to be a hard-working, honest and humble teammate who wants to say and do the right things; most believe this to be true.

He comes from a devoutly religious background and chooses to stand firm in his beliefs despite operating in a world of ultimate temptation; most have accepted this even though some believe it’s partially a disingenuous façade.

That’s about what Tebow is. He doesn’t seem to be too layered. My question: What is so utterly galvanizing or interesting about those characteristics that would motivate an entire culture to continuously adorn him with attention? I’m trying to understand the infatuation – positive and negative – with Tim Tebow. I’m failing.

Tebow’s legend developed at Florida where he had a most decorated college career. OK, but many players have had brilliant and polarizing college careers, careers that didn’t necessarily equate to professional brilliance.

Despite his celebrity, Tebow spent his college breaks away from campus, not at faraway isles or beaches, but rather doing what he believed to be God’s work on mission trips to the Philippines. OK, but many others devote time to philanthropy and performing deeds that carry far more weight than anything on a field ever will; we’ve reached the point – and we’re fortunate for this — where an athlete spending free time on a religious mission doesn’t qualify as a unique story.

Tebow’s passion for football and attitude towards hard work remain so relentlessly positive – overbearingly positive, even – that it has somehow become a common point of dissention among his critics. OK, isn’t that what celebrated athletes are supposed to be like? Aren’t they supposed to love their work and live for competing and all those other hokey ideals we claim to believe in?

From here, Tebow is somewhat cliché, and that is said with the utmost respect. The only interesting thing about him at this point in his career is the outpouring of emotion – emotion sprouting from both extremes – that his play and personality generate.

The only explanation for this is that we – as a media, as a sports fandom, as a culture – would rather latch onto the ankles of the privileged, tugging until they tumble, because it beats feeling alone with our flaws.

We’ve seen so many jaded storylines, so many fragile icons, so many liars in our world that suspension of disbelief is no longer possible. We can’t allow a career or a life to play out in any sort of reasonable, logical fashion. Everything must be quantified, nothing contemplated.

Tebow mania? It’s incredibly unnecessary and overblown. It’s easy to pick on Tebow because he chooses to kneel in prayer instead of dance, point to the sky instead of thump his chest. Religion makes many uncomfortable because it challenges beliefs and scans a moral black light over every personal stain. Everyone has the choice to follow their God or not, including Tebow. He has chosen the holy path; again, what’s the infatuation?

We have generated this media storm, a storm that is drowning the one interesting story in all of this a football story – the Broncos have remained in contention with a talented defensive line despite playing in a pass-at-all-costs league with a quarterback whose skill set is better suited for Invictus.

The Broncos’ secondary is brutally soft, but Denver has patched together a defensive front – headlined by the incredible Von Miller – that is respectable, good enough to win these run-run-run battles that Denver likes to fight. You would never know this of course, because this is about Tebow. Everything must be about Tebow. Why? Did Tebow ask for this?

Sitting in the bar in D.C., an Englishman happily guzzling Bud Lites said he was headed down to Tampa to tend to some business, and then he would go to Lakeland, Fla., for two-and-a-half months. He wasn’t really watching the football game and made a fleeting comment about not really following American sports. Looking for the least awkward segue, I asked him what he would be doing in Lakeland for that long, and he turned and smiled, saying, “Well, I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” I responded. “Two-and-a-half months is a very specific time to give if you don’t know what you’re doing there.”

The Englishman deliberately rubbed his face, moving his hand over unruly patches of whiskers his morning shave couldn’t conquer, and then patted me on the back.

“I just enjoy life, you know?” he said. He then gulped the rest of his beer and left.

No, I didn’t really know what he meant, but I wondered what he would think about Tebow and how much we seem to care about a guy who seems so … normal.

I wondered what he would think about our media culture and our propensity to look for anyway to create dissension and conversation.

I wondered what he would think about the sheer volume in this country, the volume of critics’ voices when a player has given us no particular reason to pay him so much damn attention, not when he hasn’t won or done something specific to make news.

I bet that Englishman thinks we wake up in the morning, stumble to our bathrooms and just yell into the mirrors.

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