Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
He’s become an upstanding hero to millions of young football fans, a fierce competitor on the field and a celebrated philanthropist off the field – just the kind of public figure analysts love to … hate?
New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow’s feats and foibles on the gridiron have been an endless source of debate for football fans since he was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the first round three years ago – as has his public commitment to both Christianity and abstinence before marriage.
But the debates and the criticism reached new heights this week after reports leaked out that the man portrayed as a consummate teammate got into an argument with his coach over being passed over in the lineup for a third-string quarterback.
Tebow has spent most of his first season with the Jets on the bench, backing up starting QB Mark Sanchez, while seeing only a few plays per game in the team’s gimmick “Wildcat” package and – oddly enough – on the punt team. In interviews, Tebow has repeatedly said he’d do whatever the team needed to win.
But when the poorly performing Sanchez – who has suffered a miserable year and a losing record – was finally benched 16 weeks into the season, Jets Coach Rex Ryan passed over Tebow to name the third-string quarterback the starter instead.
According to reports and rumors, the typically unflappable Tebow got into an argument with Ryan and told his coach he didn’t want to be just a gimmick-play player, but taken seriously as a quarterback.
Analysts long critical of Tebow pounced.
CBS New York analyst Peter Schwartz penned a ferocious column called “Tebow Turned out to Be a Phony.”
“Tebow’s ‘I’ll do whatever I can to help the team’ pledge from the day that the Jets acquired him turned out to be nothing but utter nonsense,” Schwartz opined. “Tebow is not the good teammate that we all thought he was, and now it seems as if reports about him being a bad apple in the locker room are true. What does it say about someone, who has captivated the world with his religious faith, doesn’t want to be a part of the game plan to help his team win?”
ESPN analyst Merril Hoge was equally critical, calling Tebow “as phony as a three-dollar bill.”
He then took his comments to criticism of Tebow’s play: “Here’s what happened in New York. They didn’t realize how bad Tim Tebow was. Once he came in there and they got to see the sampling, they’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ Not only can he not play quarterback, he’s not really a good football player.”
Video of an ESPN segment featuring both recap of the situation and Hoge’s comments can be seen below:
Tebow has faced similar criticism throughout his NFL career, even though the former Heisman Trophy winner enjoyed one of the most successful college football careers in history, topped off with two national championships for his Florida Gators team.
Peyton Manning, the quarterback who replaced Tebow with the Broncos, called Tebow “the greatest college football player ever.”
Yet Tebow’s career as a professional player has been constantly dogged by criticism.
Tebow’s success in college and immediate splash in the NFL – his jersey sales, as a rookie, immediately topped all veteran players in the league – quickly painted a target on his back for critics who sneered at his popularity.
The formerly homeschooled son of missionaries also became a media sensation for his devotion to – and public displays of – his faith, which frequently becomes fodder for critics’ more biting comments.
Few, however, fail to acknowledge Tebow’s frequent acts of philanthropy and kindness. From befriending ill children and bringing them to his games to founding a hospital for orphans in the Philippines, Tebow has been a paragon of professional athletes giving back to the community.
Schwartz concluded his diatribe with praising Tebow’s charity before getting in one, final jab.
“Let’s not discount how charitable Tebow has been, especially with children, and how important he has been for those who also follow in his faith,” Schwartz wrote, “but we’re talking about a football player here.
“He’s a football player with a huge national following and someone who has been a winner in high school, college and one magical year in the NFL with the Broncos,” Schwartz concluded. “But now, it’s very apparent that since coming to the Jets, all he’s been is a loser and a phony.”
Former Reagan Cabinet member William Bennett, however, penned a column for CNN last year in which he claimed many critics – and he singled out Hoge by name – are only “pretending” to criticize the football player, when their real problem with Tebow is the man himself.
“Tebow is a role model for sports fans everywhere. But instead of lifting him up, too many commentators, critics and even fellow athletes mock and deride him and hope that he fails,” Bennett wrote. “There is always room for healthy criticism in sports, especially at the quarterback position, but Tebow is subject to something uglier. Sportscasters love to take extra shots at Tebow; take Merril Hoge, who at one point tweeted, ‘It’s embarrassing to think the Broncos could win with Tebow!’
“Critics have a problem with who Tebow is as a man,” Bennett said. “They are bothered by his faith, character and conviction. Jake Plummer, former Broncos quarterback, said in a recent interview, ‘I wish he’d just shut up.’ They tell him to take his ‘holier than thou’ faith off the field.
“Too many in our culture deride good men such as Tebow because they make them feel uncomfortable,” Bennett wrote. “These same critics believe the Aha! theory of human behavior. This theory assumes that the real character of a person is always base and hidden from the eye and that all good actions are a front for ulterior and bad or low motives. Aha! Tim Tebow, you say you’re Christian, but we know it’s a facade for sympathy and attention. You’re just like the rest of us.”
Bennett concluded the world needs more men like Tewbow, “the type of men many fathers would want their daughters to marry and many mothers would want their sons to grow up to be.”
Regardless of why the critics are so quick to sneer, Tebow’s time in New York is reportedly coming to an end. Whispers around the NFL from various reporters indicate the Jets are likely to release or trade Tebow, offering him to opportunity to play for his third team in four years in the league.