There was this quarterback, you see, and in his own way he was very controversial. For starters, he was a leader more than a tactician, a field general more than a pin-point passer. On top of that, he tended to make many of his biggest plays with his legs, running all over the place and creating havoc until he could finally get rid of the ball. And his throwing motion? It was often a sort of a wild wind-up mess (he liked to pull the ball down too low when preparing to fire it deep) that the purists hated. It was rarely pretty.
On top of all of that, he was devoutly religious and rather conservative, in terms of politics. In particular, he was vocal on his beliefs that sex was something that happened inside a traditional marriage -- period.
The talent scouts were absolutely sure that he would never make it in the National Football League, even though he had won the Heisman Trophy once and competed for it in other years.
Besides, the faithful Catholic named Roger Staubach had to serve as a Navy officer before he could suit up for the Dallas Cowboys. It took him time to get his act together, but he turned into a pretty good pro quarterback.
I thought about Staubach, who was one of my heroes back in my days as a Texas youth, when I read the following Tebow column by Deron Snyder of the Washington Times. Your GetReligionistas rarely discuss columns, because our focus is on hard news in the mainstream press. However, we make exceptions from time to time when opinion writers, columnists, scholars, bloggers and others focus directly on topics related to religion in the news and its impact on coverage.
That is precisely what Snyder did in his discussion of why Tebow remains such a controversial figure in print and television coverage of professional football.
Here' a slice of the column focusing on Tebow himself:
... Tebow had to be himself, which means letting everyone know exactly where he stands, consequences be damned. Essentially he drew a line that separated him from everyone else -- not in a better-than-thou sort of way, but a marked distinction nonetheless -- and we've been picking sides ever since. Along the way, we've had difficulty in keeping our opinions unencumbered. Thoughts on Tebow the Christian get mixed with Tebow the Quarterback. Tebow the Hyped is entangled with Tebow the Great Guy.
There's no other explanation for the fascination with a second-year QB who started three games (winning one) for his 3-13 team. Otherwise, such a player would never have the league's third-best selling jersey in 2010, right ahead of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. He'd never have nearly 246,000 followers on Twitter, or 6,000 per each of his 41 career completions. And he'd never have countless media providing endless coverage to drive supporters and detractors into their respective camps.
But there is more to this than the quarterback himself. There are other traditional religious beliefs in professional sports and most of them manage to avoid controversy -- precisely to the degree that they are willing to avoid statements that link their faith to moral, cultural and, in this age, political questions.
Snyder, for example, mentions that Kurt Warner was a strong believer and never created a major controversy. I guess he forgot that famous Warner advertisement linked to abortion.
Eventually, the columnist concedes:
Put it all together and you've got the anomaly that is Tim Tebow. He's an outstanding young man, yet he's widely mocked and despised. He's a marginally talented pro prospect, yet he's hailed as Denver's savior and franchise QB.
The accelerant in this debate is religion, which along with race and politics forms our trinity of third-rail topics. Tebow isn't a litmus test for faith in God and belief in Jesus Christ, but that won't stop the saints and the aints from issuing grades.
If Tebow beats out Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn, and/or develops into a winning quarterback, it just proves that scouts and personnel executives and our own eyeballs can be wrong. If Tebow is relegated to a career on the sideline, holding clipboards and wearing caps, it just proves that being the nicest, most-devout guy with impeccable integrity isn't enough alone.
Here is my journalistic suggestion: Cover Tebow as a quarterback with flaws who is working to correct them, working quite hard in fact. Cover Tebow the believer by actually quoting what the man says and then let readers respond to him, instead of others pontificating about him.
It worked for Staubach, on and off the field. It might work again.
Oh, let me stress that the goal here is to comment on the coverage of Tebow and the content of Snyder's column -- not to air out your views on Tebow, his faith or his throwing motion (or even the Bronco's faith-based decision to draft him in the first round, ahead of Jacksonville).