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WHY HATE TIM TEBOW WHEN NORTH KOREA HAS MISSILES?
It’s disturbing when America’s Favorite Polarizing Target prompts rage just because he’s trying out with the Jacksonville Jaguars, which isn’t about race — but is a misguided football gamble by Meyer
What I don’t understand is the hatred. When you can despise terrorists, tech frauds, virus-spreaders and Woody Allen, why would anyone hate Tim Tebow?
If you think he should move on in life, to a career in Sunday evangelism or a larger analyst’s role on TV, it’s hard to disagree. If you call him a beneficiary of preferential treatment from his college coach and Jacksonville neighbor, Urban Meyer, I’m with you there, too. If you want to call it a hometown publicity stunt, this idea he could make an NFL roster as a tight end at age 33 when he rarely has played the position, we are partners in preaching.
But the new loathing of Tebow is a sickness that reflects the American condition. It smacks of abject racism, all wrapped around his imagery as a wholesome Christian who builds ministries, writes children’s books, crusades against human trafficking, remained a virgin until his wedding night and still praises the Lord routinely when he isn’t tweeting to his followers, ‘‘YOU are not made to be average. This life isn’t one for you to just try and get through, or to just get by. God created you to thrive, to love others, to create change and impact. You are talented, but you have to make the choice to run with full speed, not just jog!’’
The religion of sports is too splintered to appreciate the religion of Tebow. For many in the Black community, including athletes who’ve been critical on social media, the sight of him wearing No. 85 for the Jaguars — even during a voluntary minicamp workout on a lazy May afternoon — is a glaring example of White privilege. With NFL rabble-rouser Dez Bryant leading the charge, Tebow is being scorched.
‘‘So Tebow haven’t played an NFL game in damn near a decade and it’s that simple … no hate but you got to be kidding me,” tweeted Bryant, still looking for a team to sign him.
‘‘This Tebow deal shows that personal relationships go further at this level than actual ability,” wrote Carolina Panthers defensive tackle DaQuan Jones.
Tweeted Denver Broncos safety Kareem Jackson: ‘‘(Tebow) got more lives than a cat.’’
Can we just let him be? Please?
This is not about race, gentlemen. It’s about Meyer, a controversial figure himself, trying to generate interest in his first months as the anointed Jaguars savior by gifting the hometown hero a shot. That’s all. ‘‘`I have one job and that is to win games with the Jacksonville Jaguars. If Tim Tebow or Travis Etienne can help us win, then that’s my job to get them ready to go play,’’ said Meyer, referring to the rookie running back who’s expected to make instant impact. If anything, for those who know his past, Meyer has given too many opportunities to players of varied races and backgrounds, some of whom have encountered trouble with the law. The disturbing pattern dates to his days at the University of Florida, where 41 players were arrested — remember Aaron Hernandez? — in the period when Tebow was becoming a folk hero and leading the Gators to national title glory.
Is it hokey giving him a last chance when it’s highly unlikely he’ll make the team? Yes. Is Meyer risking an immediate division in the locker room, the same fissures exposed when Tebow was with the Broncos and New York Jets many years ago? Possibly. Will it be a sad day when Meyer must tell Tebow that his life as a professional athlete — which included five trying years in baseball’s minor leagues — is finally over? The tears will flood the St. Johns River.
But anyone who conflates Tebow’s tryout as part of a larger conspiracy — keeping Colin Kaepernick out of the NFL — needs a mental break. If Meyer brought in Tebow to compete for a backup quarterback role behind prized rookie Trevor Lawrence, Camp Kap would have a legitimate complaint. This is nothing more than a coach’s whim, likely inspired by Taysom Hill’s versatile role with the New Orleans Saints, though Hill moves like a Hummer and Tebow like a cement mixer. As I’ve stated repeatedly, Kaepernick has only himself to blame for lost chances. He continued to rebel against the establishment even when the Baltimore Ravens were interested in signing him and commissioner Roger Goodell was arranging for a league-wide tryout, which Kaepernick turned into a goose chase through the back roads of Georgia.
Where criticism will be valid is if the Tebow experiment devolves into a debacle. If it’s obvious from the start that he has no chance of making the team, Meyer had better cut him immediately to avoid in-house criticism — not to mention nationwide harpoons — that he’s another college coach unfit for the NFL. As it is, his own assistant coaches were divided about signing Tebow — if he has little or no chance of sticking on the roster, why waste time when much work is ahead in a rock-bottom franchise? When Tebow asked for a tryout back in February, couldn’t Meyer have had the Come-to-Papa talk then?
Instead, Meyer already is acknowledging possible locker-room problems by refusing to make Tebow available to media. By doing so, players don’t wonder why the coach’s pet and Lawrence are getting all the public attention while everyone else is ignored. All we have is a statement from Tebow, after he officially signed a one-year contract Thursday: ‘‘I want to thank the Jaguars for the opportunity to compete and earn the chance to be part of this team. I know it will be a challenge, but it is a challenge I embrace. I am dedicated to taking the direction of our coaching staff and learning from my teammates. I appreciate everyone’s support as I embark on this new journey.”
He will need every last smidgen of support. The knives are out.
``When he walks into that locker room, it’s going to be divided,’’ said ESPN football analyst Mike Tannenbaum, who speaks from experience as the general manager who brought Tebow to the Jets in 2012. ‘‘There are going to be huge supporters of his, and others are going to be like, what is he doing here as a 34-year-old backup tight end?’’
Another ESPN analyst, Greg McElroy, was with the Jets then and offers inside information. ‘‘We tried switching him to tight end, and he wasn’t good. That’s what people don’t acknowledge,’’ McElroy said. ‘‘Tim is a good dude, and I hope the best for him. But it's a sideshow, and that's what it will be come training camp time. And I think it kind of undermines what Urban Meyer is trying to build. Maybe he makes the team, maybe he doesn't. But it's going to take away from the task at hand, which is trying to put together the most competitive roster in camp. And I bet you there will be players, as someone who went to training camp with Tim, who are rolling their eyes at the amount of attention the fourth-string, fifth-string tight end gets. And it's going to piss people off. As a result, it's going to affect locker room chemistry, just like it did for us with the Jets. Not because anyone had any animosity toward Tim — they just have animosity with the coverage Tim receives.
``So, I think it's a stupid move."
Stupid, he said.
See what I mean? If the subject was anyone else, people would use more measured responses such as ‘‘ill-advised’’ or ‘‘misguided.’’ When it’s Tim Tebow, the move is ‘‘stupid.’’ Or racist.
People need to vent in 2021. I get it. But rather than hate a guy with a big heart and bigger dreams who means no harm — really, no harm whatsoever — I suggest people consider the nuclear weaponry of North Korea. Pyongyang is a bit more worthy of America’s time, energy and wrath than Tim Tebow.
Jay Mariotti, called ‘‘the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ is the host of ``Unmuted,’’ a frequent podcast about sports and life (Apple, Spotify, etc.). He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio host. As a Los Angeles resident, he gravitated by osmosis to movie projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.