GOOD

The Other Kind of 'Tebowing': Collapsing Under the Weight of Outsized Expectations

It’s hard to blame Denver fans for drinking the Tebow Kool-Aid considering the utter dysfunction of that team, but they've lost all perspective.


Tim Tebow takes the Ten Commandments seriously. Which is why he must feel pretty conflicted about the millions of football fans who (until this weekend) ignored that “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” part and treated him as the messiah.

For the four people in America who haven’t yet heard of him, Tebow is a 24-year-old second-year quarterback for the Denver Broncos, who are in the midst of a second straight embarrassing season. While at the University of Florida, he played on two national championship teams and won a Heisman Trophy. He’s also a devout evangelical Christian who does missionary work in the offseason and used to paint Biblical quotes in his eye black. He's given rise to the hilarious "Tebowing" meme, in which people imitate his on-field prayers by dropping to one knee in bizarre situations. But after Tebow's atrocious performance against the Detroit Lions last weekend, it's time to redefine the word. Tebowing (verb): To collapse under the weight of the world's out-of-control expectations.


Before the 2010 draft, many experts had Tebow marked as a third-rounder. Yet the Broncos traded up for him, giving the Baltimore Ravens three draft picks in exchange for the right to pick him 25th. He was unquestionably a phenomenal college player, but Ryan Leaf and Jamarcus Russell have taught us that sterling NCAA numbers don’t guarantee success on Sundays. There were real questions about his throwing style, and even the most optimistic commentators thought he’d need several years of development before he was a reliable pro quarterback. Any lingering illusions about Tebow’s readiness came crashing down this weekend, the first time he played against a good team. An interception, three fumbles and seven sacks will do that.

It’s hard to blame Denver fans for drinking the Tebow Kool-Aid considering the utter dysfunction of their team, but it’s pretty remarkable how completely they gave up any semblance of perspective—moving from cautious optimism about a big gamble to assuming an untested youngster can save the team. But even more noteworthy is the number of non-Broncos fans who have gotten in on the Tebow hype machine. In a season with no shortage of interesting storylines, a second-year quarterback on a terrible team has managed to dominate the NFL conversation. For months, you haven’t been able to flip on NFL Primetime without seeing his grinning face. He might save the economy. He might be a saint.

All of this points to a burning desire for the best players on the field to also be role models, a wish that’s as old as organized sports. The only reason people were so shocked by the revelation that Tiger Woods was a serial womanizer was because they had conflated driving a golf ball 300 yards with being a good person. Tebow has the opposite problem: He’s a completely admirable guy (even if his public evangelizing goes a bit far) in a league with a serious crime problem who also happens to be a bad NFL quarterback. Someday he might become a mediocre NFL quarterback, or even a good one, but this weekend made clear that we’re a long way from that day.

Some pundits have argued that the interest in Tebow means the NFL has a “star problem” (particularly as it relates to quarterbacks) but I don’t think that explains it. Aaron Rodgers has emerged from Brett Favre’s shadow to become arguably the best QB in the league. Mark Sanchez has lost none of his pretty boy glamor, and Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger still have the ability to make huge plays. Matthew Stafford is having a breakout year for the Detroit Lions. A common trope is that Stafford and Rodgers lack the personality to make them true stars, but can you name anything about Tebow’s personality other than the fact that he’s a super-Christian? I know I can’t.

No, Tebow mania is due to nothing more than what fans and analysts have projected onto him. Ever since the 2010 draft, people have talked primarily about his “intangibles”—the work ethic and “will to win” that were somehow bound to make him successful on football’s highest level. Overemphasizing these traits in athletes we want to succeed is well-trod territory, and usually a sign that they don’t have the actual talent professional success requires. When the first thing people say about you is that you’re a hard worker and a missionary to boot, you might not have what it takes to win professional football games.

None of this is Tebow’s fault. What else can he do but work hard and play when his coach sends him into the game? I genuinely feel bad for the guy—quite a statement from a Raiders fan. I hope he’s no longer the starter by the time the Raiders and Broncos square off in Oakland on Sunday (though the Broncos say he will be). I hope he’s learned his lesson and will stop the ostentatious displays of piety when he scores, but also that opponents won’t have the opportunity to mock him like Detroit players did on Sunday. Most of all, I hope that the next time a guy with great intangibles and suspect skills comes into the NFL, fans remember this week and take it as a lesson on how not to react. Nobody wants the face of their team to Tebow.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Jeffrey Beall

Articles
Screenshot via Sweden.se/Twitter (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

Greta Thunberg has been dubbed the "Joan of Arc of climate change" for good reason. The 16-year-old activist embodies the courage and conviction of the unlikely underdog heroine, as well as the seemingly innate ability to lead a movement.

Thunberg has dedicated her young life to waking up the world to the climate crisis we face and cutting the crap that gets in the way of fixing it. Her speeches are a unique blend of calm rationality and no-holds-barred bluntness. She speaks truth to power, dispassionately and unflinchingly, and it is glorious.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Ottawa Humane Society / Flickr

The Trump Administration won't be remembered for being kind to animals.

In 2018, it launched a new effort to reinstate cruel hunting practices in Alaska that had been outlawed under Obama. Hunters will be able to shoot hibernating bear cubs, murder wolf and coyote cubs while in their dens, and use dogs to hunt black bears.

Efforts to end animal cruelty by the USDA have been curtailed as well. In 2016, under the Obama Administration, the USDA issued 4,944 animal welfare citations, in two years the numbers dropped to just 1,716.

Keep Reading Show less
Science

The disappearance of 40-year-old mortgage broker William Earl Moldt remained a mystery for 22 years because the technology used to find him hadn't been developed yet.

Moldt was reported missing on November 8, 1997. He had left a nightclub around 11 p.m. where he had been drinking. He wasn't known as a heavy drinker and witnesses at the bar said he didn't seem intoxicated when he left.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities
via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Gage Skidmore

The common stereotypes about liberals and conservatives are that liberals are bleeding hearts and conservatives are cold-hearted.

It makes sense, conservatives want limited government and to cut social programs that help the more vulnerable members of society. Whereas liberals don't mind paying a few more dollars in taxes to help the unfortunate.

A recent study out of Belgium scientifically supports the notion that people who scored lower on emotional ability tests tend to have right-wing and racist views.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics