It would be an understatement of epic proportions to say that Baltimore is slightly obsessed with the Ravens, its NFL franchise in the tortured era after the sinful betrayal that cost the city the Colts. So, I open up my copy of the Baltimore Sun this morning, after the prime-time NFL draft spectacular, and whose beaming face dominates the sports page?
That would be Tim Tebow, of course.
Now, it's true that there is a Baltimore connection in last night's big event -- which was the decision by the Denver Broncos (another franchise with cult-like status in its community) to work out a deal with the Ravens in order to jump up in the selection process and grab Tebow.
You may have heard that Tebow is quite controversial right now because he is trying to lose the that strange loop in his throwing motion. Many NFL insiders are convinced that he will never be a success playing quarterback at the professional level because of that defect. That's why the ex-Florida Gator -- one of the most celebrated college stars of all time -- is so controversial. Right?
Right? That's why he was the biggest story going into the draft and during it, in terms on on-air commentary. Right?
Actually, if you're a regular GetReligion reader you know why Tebow is such a lightning rod.
It's all about the J-word -- Jesus. As we keep seeing, this muscular Christian freaks many journalists out, so they try, try, try to avoid the religion angle. Others try to whitewash the controversial nature of Tebow's faith and all of the multimedia blowback that he keeps getting from people who either (a) think he's a fake, (b) fear/hate evangelicals, (c) detest Gator Nation in general (OK, I hear you, folks) or (d) all of the above and much, much more.
However, ESPN.com ran a fine piece just before the draft that avoided most of this by simply writing about it. Kudos to reporter Johnette Howard. This is a must-read and here is a passage from "Fame, Fortune and being Tim Tebow" that shows why:
People love Tebow. People hate Tebow. People doubt him. People rave about him.
Tebow, more than any athlete in recent memory, tends to polarize people without doing anything really wrong. Or at least criminal. He's been called one of the greatest college players ever. Yet he's also been parodied as "The Chosen One" and blamed for the just-passed NCAA rule banning messages on the little black patches players wear under their eyes (though Reggie Bush actually started the trend years earlier). He's been both celebrated and mocked for the way his hyper-intense college coach, Urban Meyer, had a post-defeat speech Tebow gave two years ago all but promising a national championship cast on a metal plaque, then bolted onto the side of Florida's stadium to immortalize it. This, though Tebow still had his senior season to play.
Who else does this stuff happen to? Who else provokes these sorts of responses?
Yes, this love/hate obsession does have something to do with religion, even with the whole Culture Wars era that the press keeps hoping will end -- yet that seems very unlikely to happen.
Ask Rep. Bart Stupak. Ask the people being considered for that open chair at the U.S. Supreme Court. Ask Tebow.
Nobody can get a fix on Tebow because he's the oddest amalgam of traits to come down the sports pike in a long time. To underscore it, just try this little game: String together a few of the adjectives everyone already knows about him, like: Star virgin college quarterback. Does that compute? ("Look at you guys -- you don't know what to say," Tebow laughed after a reporter asked him last season if he was "saving himself" for marriage and Tebow, a devout Christian, stunned the room into silence by answering yes.) Tebow is the son of two missionaries, spent part of his childhood in the Philippines, and has returned there a number of times to help out by performing services in the field such as, um ... circumcisions?
No wonder you scare NFL people, Tebow was told Tuesday.
"Ha!" he laughed.
So, do you think this story is anywhere near being done, with Tebow moving on to a professional league that is afraid to allow network television cameras to show players praying together after a game? Do you think journalists (and other people with YouTube dreams) are following Tebow around, looking for the slightest hint of THE FALL?
The key to all of this, said Howard, is that Tebow is now officially used to all of that. He no longer cares.
Read it all, folks.
Photos: A common Tebow satire from cyberspace. A word from the other side.