Is Being Gay Bigger than Jesus?
Okay, so are we bored talking about Michael Sam yet? Good!
I glossed over this in my last post, but I just love hearing myself talk (and also wanted to explain my opinion in more detail to some people who I’ve talked to recently). In the week since the draft, quite a few articles have been written comparing Michael Sam and Tim Tebow, which isn’t too surprising on its own. What’s surprising to me is how most of them have managed to completely miss the point. Because the two players aren’t worth comparing because they’re so opposite.
They’re worth comparing because they’re so similar.
Each of the articles linked above talks about how all Sam’s done is be openly gay and people love him for it, and all Tebow did was be openly Christian and people hated him for it. Sam’s detractors have been fined and punished, Tebow’s detractors were given promotions or something. But let’s roll back the clock and really look at how accurate that claim is.
Coming out of college in 2010, Tebow was considered a long-term project with a high bust potential at best, and a complete waste of time with a high bust potential at worst. Despite this, the Broncos gave up three of their draft picks to get back into the first round and take him 25th overall. Fans nationwide were so excited at this choice that they immediately purchased so many Tebow jerseys it shattered a sales record. In fact, for that entire first season, Tebow sold more jerseys than any other player. This for a quarterback who didn’t start until the last three games of the season, after his team was eliminated from the playoff chase, the coach who drafted him had been fired, and the starting QB had bruised his ribs.
To put that in even more perspective, Ndamukong Suh was also a rookie that year, on his way to a 10-sack season, an All-Pro selection, a Pro Bowl nomination (which he passed up to have surgery), and defensive rookie of the year honors. Suh was a “distant second” among rookies in jersey sales. Sam Bradford, who played the same position as Tebow, started every game for his team, nearly went to the playoffs (on a team that was 1-15 a year before), and earned offensive rookie of the year honors came in third.
It hardly stopped there. Despite Tebow going 1-2 as a starter that year, he was still the most popular man in Denver, and the fans showed it. The next year he was again a backup, and they chanted his name on Monday Night Football and put up billboards calling for him to start. Once he started, he became one of the most talked about athletes in the world and everyone started “Tebowing.” Even in 2012, the middle of his completely forgettable season on the Jets, SportsCenter threw him a birthday party.
There was hatred for Tebow, but when he was in the league it was the minority. The majority of people loved Tebow and he inspired much more blind loyalty than blind hatred.
But that’s the thing: the blind loyalty and media love had just as negative an impact on his career as blind hatred would have. The attention and praise he received, despite delivering mostly average to awful performances, drew the ire of players and fans who didn’t love him, though (at the time) they were still the minority. The blind devotion is the single biggest reason he can’t even get a backup job in the NFL. The attention he draws isn’t worth it.
Most of the hatred for Tebow has come within the past two years, when he was either struggling on the Jets or not on an NFL squad. During this time, his haters have had all the talking points on their side. And that, along with some recent nasty rumors, has a tendency to alter our impressions of what actually happened.
Additionally, the claim that Tebow was hated for his beliefs raises a very important question–Why do none of the other Christians in the NFL have that problem?
Take, for example, this interview with then-Texas QB Colt McCoy, one of my favorite sound bites of all time. When asked what it was like to take his team to the national championship, only to be forced out of the game with a shoulder injury, he responded “I always give God the glory. I never question why things happen the way they do. God is in control of my life, and I know if nothing else I’m standing on the Rock.”
That’s one of the most inspiring, I daresay profound statements of faith I’ve heard from an athlete (compared with Tebow’s simple “God bless” at the end of interviews). And yet, no one’s ever said the NFL hates McCoy because he’s a Christian.
It’s also seems somewhat problematic that for all of the Tebow hate these articles claim existed, the closest any of them can come to proving it is referencing interviews where other players said they thought he should tone down his religious talk, or that fans said mean things about him on an internet comments section.
Wow. People being jerks on the internet. Surely Tebow’s the only one to have to face such abuse.
Yet they act as if that is a serious comparison to Miami Dolphins player Don Jones tweeting “OMG” and “Horrible” at Sam. These authors act outraged that the NFL punished Jones, one of their employees, and didn’t… punish the private citizens that were mean to Tebow? Force a team to sign him? I’m afraid I’m missing their point.
Just as they seem to be missing that point Jones did deserve to be punished. This is a professional talking about a major event in his field. In what world is a tweet like that acceptable? As a teacher, if my response to a new policy from my employer, or new education laws, was to tweet “OMG” and “Horrible,” I would be lucky to keep my job and would certainly be disciplined. And rightfully so. An argument that the NFL overreacted with Jones might have some traction, but don’t even try claiming that he shouldn’t have been punished.
Which finally brings me back to Michael Sam. Because his similarities to Tebow (blind loyalty from a subculture, media love and adoration in disproportion to his accomplishments) are bad news, for everyone. For fans and (I have to assume) even non-fans of football, Tebow’s years in the league were some of the most frustrating. No one would talk about anything else, no one would look at his performances objectively. If you said a good thing about him, you were a bandwagon fan. Say a negative thing and you must hate Christians. Does anyone want to relive that? I certainly hope not.
For Sam himself, he could easily face the same fate as Tebow; being driven from the league by an overly-rabid fan base. The NFL uses up and tosses out so many undeveloped players each year, we certainly don’t need to add another one to the pile. Not for this reason, at least. Maybe the fact that his documentary has been postponed means someone realizes this much attention before he’s even made his team is a bad idea. I certainly hope so.
To this point in their careers, the NFL reaction to Michael Sam has been much more similar to its reaction to Tim Tebow than dissimilar.
And that’s unsettling.