Last Friday, I wrote a column stating that Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow deserved our pity. Statistically, over his previous three games, all losses, he had been beyond terrible. I pointed out that on Sunday, he would be facing the league’s number-one defense, a Pittsburgh Steelers squad so mean, to use an old saying, that they’d cry over Tebow’s mangled body just to get salt in his wounds. I thought Tebow and his awkward hand grenade throwing motion was headed for a long, sad offseason. I was dead wrong.
The Broncos won 29-23 in overtime, and Tebow threw for over 300 yards including an eighty-yard touchdown pass to win the game. Even more impressively, he only completed ten passes, for an unreal thirty-one yards per completion. Pity this sportswriter, because I’ve been bombarded by Tebow Tee-hadists telling me that I don’t know my ass from my elbow. And on this day they’re right. I was wrong on Tebow, and that’s not all I was wrong about.
My central Xs and Os mistake in predicting a Pittsburgh blowout was ignoring the injuries that had ravaged the Steelers. Their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, had one working leg, with his other ankle swollen to badly he had to wear a larger shoe. Their Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and starting running back Rashard Mendenhall were both out with injuries. Their safety Ryan Clark also couldn’t play with a serious blood disorder. It was certainly ignorant of me to ignore that long list. But I made an even bigger mistake than that.
I made the cardinal error of applying the laws of politics to sports. In the last two weeks, two Republican primary also-rans—Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry—invoked the name of Tim “Focus on the Family” Tebow to inspire their flagging Christianist base. To put it mildly, the gambit failed to work for either candidate. I was over-eager to see Tebow then fail in their footsteps.
In what is not news to my regular readers, I abhor the kinds of politics that Bachmann, Perry and, yes, Tebow, represent. I consider it repellent when politicians crush the hard-won freedoms of others in the name of their version of Jesus Christ. To see LGBT people and women’s reproductive rights demonized, and have that be accepted as mainstream political discourse, demands a vigorous response.
I further can’t stand that Tim Tebow gets a media pass for his extremist politics—the politics of Christianist hegemony—while so many athletes over the years have had their livelihoods destroyed for daring to speak out for the outnumbered and oppressed. I can’t stand the way we all know but don’t say that if Tebow was a devout Muslim, the media narrative about his “faith” would be profoundly different.
If the Bachmann/Perry duo fell short, then surely Tebow would also falter, right? Wouldn’t that be the karmic trifecta?
That didn’t happen, nor should it have happened. But that’s also the great thing about sports, the thing that makes it superior to Beltway elephant/jackass politics. The game is decided on the field, transparently and in full view. There are no Super Pacs to hide behind once the opening whistle sounds. As former NBA player Rasheed Wallace famously said, “Ball don’t lie.” When it counted, against the Steelers in the playoffs, Tim Tebow was the truth. As a sportswriter, I forgot that the game plays by its own rules, and they’re rules governed by heart, skill and coaching. Tebow and the Broncos won on every count. I have lost the debate on Tim Tebow’s skill as a quarterback. But I’ll still challenge Tim Tebow’s politics for as long as necessary. And in that battle, the fight continues.
Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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