They are all largely despised by the sports journalism division of our media elite. The continuing controversy over the first round selection in the National Football League draft of quarterback Tim Tebow by the Denver Broncos is a reminder that sports journalists are simply smaller and often nastier versions of their elite brothers on the serious side of the business.
Get accused twice of rape (Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh), repeatedly abuse your wife (Michael Pittman, Tampa Bay), regularly strangle and drown hapless dogs (Michael Vick, Atlanta)? Ah, well, boys will be boys, it is society’s fault — and besides, women and dogs don’t wear Super Bowl rings. But pray, work with the poor, and refuse to engage in casual sex — there’s something seriously wrong with you. Or, as one Sports Illustrated writer put it, you are a certified “wackdo.”
And so the controversy has swirled around “wackdo” Timothy Richard “Tim” Tebow, the evangelical Christian whose Denver Bronco jersey has become the top NFL merchandise seller before he set foot on Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium. Fans love this clean-cut, home-schooled son of Christian missionaries as much as the sports journalism establishment despises him.
His crime: an intense faith considered “pretty evil” by journalists who look to their progressive brethren for their worldview. Welcome to the world of the sports journalism elite. Just call these mainstream sports journalists Mini-Me, the tiny clone of Dr. Evil in the late nineties Austin Powers movies. Mini-Me was everything Dr. Evil was, but less. In the same way, sports journalists are everything mainstream journalists are… but less.
The mainstream sports elite looks up from what famed sports writer Jimmy Cannon called the “toy department” of life and see their big brothers on the news side emphatically anti-Christian, misogynistic, and radical left in orientation. And so they say, “Me too!”
“Me too” to the disdain for the young quarterback unexpectedly taken in the first round of the NFL draft and who led his University of Florida team to two national championships. In selecting him, Denver defied media and NFL insider conventional wisdom, which translated his “goofy” worldview to disparagement of his football skills. Never mind that he came out of college with both a Heisman Trophy, the premiere award of college football, and a James E. Sullivan award for the nation’s top athlete in any sport — Tim Tebow doesn’t have what it takes to succeed in professional football.
The antagonism of the media originates in the same place as the love of the fans — priorities. The Tampa Bay newspaper described Tebow’s view of the world as “faith, family, academics, football,” in that order. But what about the NFL staples upon which sports journalists fawn: sex, drugs, violence, and bling?
Fans have largely ignored media experts, cheering Tebow because he is an exceptional athlete with exceptional character. The latter, however, is what bothers most journalism insiders, who responded to the selection with “scorn and mockery,” as the Wall Street Journal put it.
The intangibles that Broncos Coach Josh McDowell is betting will turn Tebow into a franchise leader are exactly the qualities at which mainstream journalists scoff. Don’t talk to us about character, CBS sneered, because if it really mattered, then all the NFL needs to do is gather up a bunch of “altar boys” or “‘A’ students.”
But character an NFL player does not make, and the sports media elite sees trouble in Tebow’s in-your-face spirituality and religion and family… especially his family, evangelicals all, smiling and wholesome and using words like “wonderful” and “blessed” and “thankful.”
With rare exception (Denver Post columnist Woody Paige predicted stardom, maintaining that murder and mayhem are not the only qualifications for NFL success), the journalists have delighted in disparaging the Tebows as too “Christiany,” a journalistic synonym for “fascist.” You know, the kind of people whose vocal love for Jesus conjures up thoughts of a “Nazi rally,” as the largest Boston sports radio station described a family gathering.
Tebow and his family are disliked because they are emphatically traditional, loving, and Christian. One Slate writer admitted to “queasiness on the part of media elites (me included) over the idea that the family really believes what it says it believes.”
Shameful, really: Respect women, love your neighbor, and put God first. This contrasts with the reigning attitude among sportswriters and broadcasters, which a retired female sports journalist described as “historically liberal and, in fact, misogynistic,” “delight[ing] in portraying females” as “sluts and groupies.”
Witness Tony Kornheiser, popular ESPN commentator and long-time Washington Post columnist, who often starts his cable show, “PTI,” with a leering remark about having sex. In his early sixties with a scraggly beard and balding head, Kornheiser has the on-air presence of the creepy uncle you shoo away from the kids on family picnics…and he has just finished a suspension for making sexist remarks on air about a female colleague.
He is a star of the ESPN network, which downplayed the charges against Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is alleged to have raped two girls, one in a ladies room stall in a nightclub. And while NBC sports gave the rape charges the boys-will-be-boys treatment, CBS spotlighted a player who said he would “never condone” what “Ben did with the young ladies”…but you want him leading your team.
After all, what’s a rape or two — just means you’re a leader, a player is the prevailing sentiment among those who cover the NFL. Besides, do you know how many of those press corps iPods are blasting rapper Eminem’s latest, saying that he’d like to “get as rowdy as Roethlisberger in a bathroom stall”?
And into this marches Tim Tebow. He films a commercial with his mother for Focus on the Family (“dedicated to helping families thrive“), and media angrily accuse him of pushing traditional lifestyles. You know, marriages where women are equal partners and men do not beat their wives or leave children sprinkled around the landscape like so many daisies in a field.
Positively un-NFL, so much so that one front-office executive announced to Yahoo Sports that “I don’t want any part of him” and his nutty views. Yahoo Sports columnist Les Carpenter, reacting to this, noted that Tebow, “known for his goodness[,] has actually drawn a more visceral reaction [from the NFL and sports journalism establishment] than those players who are at their core, truly bad.”
But Tebow continues being Tebow. He responds with good-natured humor to a jeering press that accuses him of being a virgin with a simple statement: “Yes, I am.” And he goes on to explain the importance of commitment and marriage and ends with noting the discomfort in the room: “I think y’all are stunned right now.”
…To which Pro Sports Daily responded “Don’t be shocked if some of these guys want to take him out and kill the legend that is Tim Tebow.” NCAA Football Fanhouse expressed dismay that “the most popular player in SEC history is saving himself for marriage.” “Unbelievable” when he can have any girl he wants.
What is wrong with this guy? The Washington Post brought in professional atheist Richard Dawkins to reassure its readers that the NFL has nothing to fear. Too many hits from the blind side did not produce this “dummy.”
Rather, that he was “home schooled by missionary parents is to blame.” So don’t worry: “Different sperm” from his father might have produced a child less “spectacularly stupid” with a greater chance to “have survived the home schooling and broken free.”
Don’t worry — you’re safe, for this Christian “nonsense” is an aberration, Dawkins assured readers.
So drop your pants, boys — are you ready for some football?
Stuart Schwartz is on the faculty at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.