So what is it about Tim Tebow?
By now, even if you don't follow sports, you've probably heard of the Denver Broncos' God-fearing, straight-arrow quarterback.
Which side are you taking — like or dislike?
Not many are in the middle. Tebow is a polarizing figure, and that's the mystery of it all.
What's not to like about Tim Tebow? He's deeply religious, sincere, grateful, clean-cut, unfailingly polite, considerate, kind and devoted to charities, missionary work, and mom and dad. He is seemingly incapable of cynicism, guile and profanity and sports an earnestness we haven't seen since the days of "Leave it to Beaver." If you had a daughter, this is the guy you'd beg her to marry.
If all this weren't enough, Tebow, the most unorthodox quarterback in the NFL since players started wearing helmets (his throwing motion is enough to make purists look away), has turned the 1-4 Broncos into 8-5 division leaders and the talk of professional sports. Half of the wins were Tebow-powered comebacks in the fourth quarter.
And yet he suffers from the same fate as Mitt Romney — so likeable he's unlikeable for some; so perfect, he's too perfect; so good that it must not be real.
At least a couple of opposing players have imitated the prayer position that Tebow strikes on the field, which looks like Rodin's "The Thinker." He has been ripped on Internet message boards for his piousness and supposed self-righteousness and for "wanting to force his views on everyone." He is vilified for beginning his interviews by thanking the Lord and for his public prayers — "Tebowing," it's called — and for wearing his religion on his sleeve, not to mention his face (he once included Biblical passages on his eye black).
It's such a strange phenomenon that columnists and media types are puzzling over it around the country. "Why does Tim Tebow irritate so many people?" asked Daniel Foster in the National Review.
It's not the first time we've seen this phenomenon, although not on this scale. Kurt Warner, another overtly Christian quarterback, similarly turned off fans for the same reasons; even his wife got dragged into the ugliness, largely because TV cameras couldn't resist showing her in the stands. Retired basketball star David Robinson, another devoutly religious man, endured some of this, as well. Shaquille O'Neal wrote in his book that he wanted to dominate Robinson "because I got tired of the goody-two-shoes image he was throwing out there."
All this might say more about our pop culture than about Tebow. How do you reconcile the vitriol directed at Tebow with the way fans flock to embrace Kobe Bryant, who faced rape charges (until his accuser refused to testify) and ultimately settled the civil case out of court and confessed "only" to adultery). Or Ben Roethlisberger, who was accused of rape or sexual assault twice and suspended for the second incident? Or Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress, both ex-cons.
People cry foul over Tebow's public demonstrations of faith, but they make celebrities and millionaires out of those who act out badly in public — Britney, Paris, Lindsey Lohan, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga, Serena Williams. Dennis Rodman made a career and a fortune out of acting bad. When Madonna and Lady Gaga and the rest of them need to jump-start their careers, they do something vulgar and outrageous.
It's an old formula and Americans fall for it every time: Badness and outrageousness = fame = riches. Latrell Sprewell choked his coach and for that he was awarded endorsements and a TV commercial for a sneaker in which he proclaimed that he was "America's dream."
It's the age of the anti-hero.
We are suspicious of goodness and fascinated by badness.
Tebow has been here before. A couple of years ago TV announcer Thom Brennaman gushed about the quarterback during the collegiate national championship game — "If you're fortunate enough to spend five minutes or 20 minutes around Tim Tebow, your life is better for it." Following a penalty against Tebow, Brennaman said, "That might be the first thing he's ever done wrong."3 comments on this story
There was a public backlash against Tebow after that, as if it were his fault that his exposure and praise was over the top. "You get too much of anything — even if it's a good thing — and you get sick of it," wrote one Orlando columnist about Tebow. And yet no one ever tired of bad boys like Terrell Owens, a team cancer and egomaniac, or Britney or Lindsey or the rest of them.
Tebow experienced another public backlash when he made an anti-abortion commercial that ran during the Super Bowl. Hollywood actors can use their celebrity to promote (name the cause), but how dare pious Tebow use his celebrity to promote his beliefs.
Love him or hate him, the country is fascinated. Radio talk shows and TV gabfests devote hours to Tebowmania. He's the talk of the nation. Everyone wants to know more about Tebow.
Maybe what they're really learning is more about themselves.