By Ryan Chatelain
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Tim Tebow has become the Nickelback of sports.
It’s practically expected that whenever the quarterback-turned-baseball player is in the news that he will be mocked by the masses, particularly in this ornery era of social media.
Many snickered at the very idea of him as a first-round pick in the NFL. After he hardly sniffed the field as a QB with the Jets, they chuckled when the Patriots and Eagles gave him a shot in training camp. And then they burst into laughter when he announced he was giving baseball a try.
What is it exactly about Tebow, who signed a minor league contract with the Mets on Thursday, that makes him seemingly irresistible to ridicule?
Is it that he’s unapologetically religious? In a time when we can’t escape headlines about terrorism, domestic abuse and violence by and against police, directing our venom at a man for being devoted to his faith makes about as much sense as a drunk yodeler. Besides, Tebow didn’t exactly invent the practice of thanking Jesus in post-game interviews.
Do we laugh because he’s developed a reputation for being Mother Teresa in cleats? True, he helps orphans and sick kids and has built medical facilities and homes for the needy. Would we appreciate him more if he were less compassionate, if he saw misfortune in the world and looked the other way?
Do we poke fun at him because he flopped in the NFL? Can’t be that, right? The line of first-rounders with shattered gridiron dreams is infinite. Tebow, by all accounts, worked his tail off in the NFL and fell short. Let’s not rib him because he ultimately lacked the talent to be successful. Let’s instead turn those crosshairs to the countless JaMarcus Russells and Johnny Manziels, athletes who very well might have had the skills but wasted them because they didn’t put in the effort.
Are we seriously belittling Tebow now for chasing a new dream? It’s as if this generation has declared war on positive thinking, and Tebow is Public Enemy No. 1.
We love inspiring films about sports underdogs like “Rocky” or “Rudy,” but heaven forbid if someone tries to live out the real thing here in 2016.
When Tebow came out of the University of Florida in 2010, he was well aware that his game had shortcomings on the next level. He trained about as hard as one could train leading up to the NFL draft and worked diligently to adjust his throwing motion in an effort to prove that he should be a first-round pick.
The Broncos took the bait. And while it was rarely pretty, Tebow found a way to go a respectable 8-6 as a starter in regular season games. In what turned out to be the second-to-last start he’d ever make, he passed for 316 yards, including an 80-yard game-winning TD in overtime, to upset the Steelers in the playoffs.
Maybe it wasn’t the success he envisioned for his career, but Tebow’s work ethic largely helped buy him those handful of memorable moments in the NFL. The regimen he put himself through leading up to last month’s audition for 28 major league teams was reminiscent of how he prepared for the NFL. Maybe the results won’t be any better on the diamond than they were on the gridiron, but rooting for a decent person to fail seems rather perverse.
One of the more understandable reasons to be turned off by Tebow might be the media’s overexposure of him. But is that really Tebow’s fault? Blame the ESPN hype machine. Blame the play-by-play announcers who endlessly fawned over him in college — CBS’s Verne Lundqvist once said Tebow “may be one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever come across.” Blame the reporters who descend en masse upon anywhere Tebow goes, even if he’s only battling to be a third-string quarterback. He’s click bait, and they know it. Blame yourself for that.
While Tebow hasn’t exactly shunned the spotlight — he’s said his celebrity gives him a platform to do good for others — you’d also better believe there were times he could have lived without the intense scrutiny, such as when he had to answer questions about how his NFL dream was hanging by a thread.
Now some are laughing at the Mets for signing Tebow, arguing, among other things, that it must be a publicity stunt and that his presence in Port St. Lucie, Florida, will somehow prove to be a massive distraction in Flushing, Queens. In other words, they don’t want to see a 29-year-old guy who hasn’t played baseball since high school be given a chance.
But baseball farm systems are extremely deep. If Garth Brooks could somehow amass dozens of spring training at-bats and Michael Vick could get drafted despite showing no interest in a pro baseball career, a team can surely find a spot on one of its many minor league and out-of-season affiliates for someone with Tebow’s athleticism and attitude. And the Mets weren’t alone — as many as eight teams were reportedly interested in him.
The laughing about Tebow probably won’t end anytime soon. And maybe that says more about us than about him.
The choice between respecting Tebow for chasing his dreams and joining the gang of Twitter bullies who rip him for doing so should be an easy one.
Please follow Ryan on Twitter at @ryanchatelain