Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On the Tebow phenomenon

I thought I'd add my two cents to the widespread discussion about Tim Tebow's football success and his personality.  Not that I have any particularly deep insight into his character - I can only react to the public persona he puts on display.

It's pretty evident that Tebow is passionate about his football and he understands two important aspects of football:  (1) it's a team game, and (2) the quarterback position demands leadership.  Tebow's public statements indicate that he wants to deflect the attention from himself to his teammates, which I have to believe plays well in the locker room, as well as on the air.  I can't possibly know the extent to which he actually believes that he doesn't rate the attention being showered upon him - but I hope his comments reflect accurately what he thinks.  Surely at least a few people in sports (and elsewhere) exist who are not all about calling attention to themselves and ignoring the necessary support from their team.  Many players, including what seems to be an inordinate percentage among wide receivers in the NFL, seem to need the attention desperately, rather than being satisfied with being successful in their team roles and helping the team win games.  It's very refreshing to hear Tebow giving praise to his teammates and not playing to the hype about him.

It's also very clear that Tebow has assumed the role of team leader, as any good quarterback should.  He isn't the best at the position the league has ever seen, at least in terms of raw quarterbacking skills, but he's proven he can carry the team to win.  In team sports, that's all that really counts.  Quarterbacks win when they can elevate the play of those around themselves - Super Bowl champion quarterbacks include some of the great quarterbacks of all time, but their ranks also include some rather midde-of-the-road quarterback talent.  Some great quarterbacks have never won a champtionship.  It remains to be seen what Tebow's future will be in that regard, of course.

It's amusing to see how the notion of a quarterback who is a threat to run the ball seems to be a new phenomenon in the NFL.  Tebow joins a long tradition of quarterbacks who can make plays by running, as well as dropping back in the pocket to throw.  It always has created problems for the defense to have to account for the quarterback as a ball carrier.  Why is this aspect of Tebow's game such a big deal in the media?  Frankly, I don't understand why it's being hyped as a new sort of quarterback play.  His size and power add a particular intensity to his running, but this is hardly the dawning of a new style of play.

If there's anything about Tebow I don't like (other than leading his Florida Gators to a win over my Oklahoma Sooners in the BCS National Championship game a few years back), it's when he pushes his religious beliefs while he's got media attention as a football player.  I have no problem with him believing whatever he wants, and pushing his religion on people in his private life, but ... he should keep his faith out of his football.  When he says he wants to thank his lord and savior jesus christ for all his success, this seems to be another aspect of his modesty.  However, it also suggests that a supernatural deity has picked sides and is helping Tebow beat other teams.  Would a supernatural deity do such a thing?  Is the almighty creator of the universe a Broncos football fan?  Frankly, the idea that Tebow's success follows from the intervention of an all-powerful deity on his behalf strikes me as arrogant, not modest.  Why should the creator of the universe want Tebow to succeed, thereby causing the failure of other players and their teams?  Doesn't that seem to suggest Tebow believes himself to be one of the omnipotent and omniscient creator's favorites?

When football players thank their deity for their success, and Tebow is only the most visible among many athletes who do this, it overlooks their mistakes and screw-ups.  Do they point to the sky on bended knee when they throw interceptions or fumble the ball?  "That one's on you, lord - my screw-up was your fault!"??

Why do I have such a problem with Tebow's open declarations of his faith?  I have no issue with him doing so in his private life to whatever extent he wishes.  But when he's granted an opportunity to gain media access to the public because of his football, then his remarks should be confined to football.  I don't turn on football games in order to hear religious proselytizing!  

To understand how utterly inappropriate this behavior is, imagine that I'm attending an international scientific conference to present a scientific paper on which I collaborated with several colleagues.  After offering acknowledgments to my colleagues, I then declare, "The same sort of rational analysis of objective evidence I've presented here, when applied to religious beliefs, provides a substantial argument against the existence of any mythical supernatural deity, often given by believers the name of god, jesus christ, or allah!"  Such a clearly irrelevant and discordant note would be an inappropriate intrusion of my personal spiritual perspective while on the stage in my role as a scientist.  I'd be pushing my opinions on people who, after all, didn't gather there to learn about my atheism.  By the same token, I find it disturbing that Tebow feels he can preach his religious beliefs from his platform as a football star.

I respect Tim Tebow as a football player, but I have no need to hear constantly about his religion.  Nor does anyone else.  He should keep that confined to his private life.