SALT LAKE CITY — If the cheering for Jimmer at Jazz games seemed confusing, picture this: New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow showed up at a Yankees game, last Sunday, wearing a Yankees hat, yet still got booed.
They didn't just boo the opponent, or any under-producing players, they razzed a guy who was rooting for their team. Sheesh, tough crowd. Sounds like the type that would boo Santa.
Actually, that happened once in Philadelphia, when the jolly old elf showed up at an Eagles game and was pelted with snowballs. As for Tebow, he too is having a hard time catching a break. He's polite, modest and a better NFL player than many experts expected. In case you hadn't heard, he's also deeply religious. So what are fans mad about? That he's saving himself for marriage? The exposure he gets?
Those seem like sorry reasons to boo a guy.
Fans seem able to forgive Michael Vick's conviction for dog fighting or Kobe Bryant's Colorado infidelity, but Tebow?
Boo him into Jersey for speaking about his faith.
I understand how this Tebow stuff can annoy certain people. Not everyone wants to hear it. For years I've covered athletes that attribute home runs and touchdowns to God. Most of the "born again" ballplayers I've known, though, seemed to be good people, trying to live good lives.
That doesn't mean I need to hear them witness in every post-game interview.
I don't doubt God directs lives, but whether He actually guides the ball over the outfield wall, for some divine purpose, I'm not convinced. Maybe on occasion, like a promise made to a kid in the hospital. But always?
Otherwise, how does that help a religious pitcher's career?
At the same time, I respect Tebow. In January 2007, I went to Arizona to cover the national championship game between Florida and Ohio State. Chris Leak was Florida's main quarterback, Tebow more of a situational guy. Nobody was planning on him eventually winning the Heisman.
I needed a quote and Tebow was standing by himself during the media interview session, so I asked him a couple of questions. Looking at my archived stories, I realize I didn't even use the quotes. But what I do remember is that he made eye contact and was very polite and respectful, all yes sirs and no sirs.
He did reference God during the short exchange, but I took it as a sincere expression of appreciation, not a sales pitch.
Some fans supposedly booed Tebow this week because they were Giants backers, rather than Jets. Others allegedly did so because he was sitting next to Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade. But when a local player like Tebow is booed, you can expect much of it is rooted in meanness. They don't like what he represents.
It's generally considered OK for athletes to promote hedonism at every turn. They can talk about infidelity, substance abuse or trash teammates with impunity. They'll get booed, too, but not usually by their own fans. Dennis Rodman was a celebrity in Chicago. He made magazine covers, published books and dated starlets and pop stars. I'm surprised he didn't show up on a cereal box. (Actually, he was in a Detroit team photo on a Wheaties box in the late 1980s.)
He threw parties that needed police intervention, and later helped launch a strippers' basketball league.
Now he's in the Hall of Fame.
This for a guy who married himself, disrupted teams and bragged about his debauchery.
Then there's Tebow, a devoted Christian, who made the mistake of appearing in his new hometown to watch a game. Knicks guard Iman Shumpert got a nice round of applause at the game, as did Wade, after showing his own Yankees hat to the crowd.
Tebow received a smattering of cheers at first, but mostly boos. Which is too bad. This is a guy who never claimed he was perfect, just devout.
So he gets the razzberry supreme.
New Yorkers can go ahead and boo him for what he is or isn't, though I doubt it will change his faith or his approach. On the other hand, maybe it will give them time to move on and boo the Statue of Liberty while they're at it.
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