- LZ Granderson, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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The Florida Gators are not in the hunt for a national title.
The Denver Broncos are not Super Bowl favorites.
And yet, few names in football can stir a pot faster than the Florida alum who is now in his first pro season with Denver: Tim Tebow.
The rookie hasn't thrown a pass in a game that matters in nearly a year, and yet when he announced his intention to write an inspirational memoir called "Through My Eyes" this week, he immediately started trending on Twitter and set off a firestorm on Facebook, on talk radio and in the blogosphere.
"Vomit" was the comment left by one ESPN.com reader.
"Who is going to buy this B.S.?" asked a reader at the Huffington Post.
And this, on Twitter: "WHY IS TIM TEBOW ON THE #TTBoard IS HE DEAD OR DID HE ANNOUNCE TO THE WORLD HE FINALLY LOST HIS VIRGINITY??"
Many of the people who've weighed in on the news are asking some form of this question: He's only 23 years old! How much of a memoir can it be, and what makes him think he's done enough to write about inspiration? To them, the decision to write the book is one more transgression from this self-righteous do-gooder who has rubbed those outside of Gator Nation the wrong way since he announced that God told him to go to Florida.
My response: WTH?
Not in reaction to Tebow or his book, but rather to the people who are behaving as if Tebow has threatened to eat their first-born if they don't buy a copy. The last time I checked, purchasing a book was a choice, not a law, and asking, "What has he done?" is either disingenuous or an indictment of the ignorance of the person asking the question. Sure, Tebow is still young, but he's considered one of the greatest college football players ever. Vince Spadea has a memoir out, and he's won one minor title in 17 years of competition. (If you just asked, "Who is Vince Spadea?" then you only further prove my point.) And need I mention that 16-year-old Justin Bieber already has his autobiography in bookstores?
The real reason Tebow is despised by so many has nothing to do with what he's done and everything to do with what he hasn't done -- and That's made a mistake. At least, that's the way he's been portrayed in the media, including ESPN, which dubbed an OTL segment on his senior year in high school "Tim Tebow: The Chosen One." (Note to self: No good PR can come from being called "The Chosen One." See: James, LeBron.)
Now by all accounts, Tebow is a good kid who has had the misfortune of being characterized as a perfect person. Why else would years of volunteer work in the Philippines be met with cynicism? Why else would a reporter be so invasive that he asks the kid if he's had sex yet? Those who resent Tebow's "perfect" image seem to be hoping that somewhere along the road this self-proclaimed evangelical Christian will be tripped up, that this media-proclaimed "Great White Hope" in a sport dominated by blacks will have a blemish and that he who can do no wrong eventually will or already has.
The portrayal of being perfect isn't fair to Tebow, but he played a role in its creation, and so it is a burden he will likely bear for the rest of his playing days. No matter how humble he remains or how much success in the NFL he achieves, a large contingent of sports fans will root against him for no other reason than that the media celebrates his desire to be a good person through the framework of his faith. DC Talk has a song -- "What If I Stumble?" -- and in the chorus, the group ponders a series of questions I'm sure must cross Tebow's mind from time to time.
What if I stumble, what if I fall?
What if I lose my step and I make fools of us all?
Will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble, and what if I fall?
Disliking an athlete because he beat your favorite team? That's being a fan.
Disliking an athlete for wearing John 3:16 on his eye black? That's something else -- religious intolerance.
Disliking an athlete who beats your favorite team while thanking God for the opportunity to do so? Well if you need a reason to buy his memoir, his thinking about how he's dealt with the large target on his back for all of these years would be it.
True, no one forced him to do those interviews for all of his years at Florida. But no one forced us to read the stories or watch the videos, either. All of which makes the negative reaction to the memoir announcement that much more strange. After all, if it's OK for everyone else to profit from telling his story over and over again, why can't he sell it once? And if he hasn't done anything worth writing about, how does he have the top-selling jersey in the NFL?
Two national championships?
A Heisman -- as a sophomore?
Danica Patrick has a memoir out, and it might be difficult to win an argument that she's done more in racing than Tebow has in football. Think it might have something to do with her looks and the way she's used them to market herself?
David Beckham has three memoirs out, and it's naïve to think that isn't, at least in part, because of his international sex appeal.
Tebow doesn't play that game.
Here's his off-the-field game: There currently are bills in Alabama and Kentucky that carry his name because he fought for the right of homeschoolers to play for their local schools' sport teams. He did this while spending chunks of his summers working in an orphanage. Busy kid, to say the least.
However, busy doesn't mean he doesn't have time to hear the criticism, feel the pressure or make mistakes. And if it's discovered he's done something salacious such as, say, sending lewd text messages to a massage therapist, he'd deserve the backlash. But keep in mind, Tebow's already said he's not perfect. He's just a guy trying to do the best he can with the time and talent that he's been given. It seems some of us are so blinded by our disgust at the way he's been overhyped that we've lost sight that he's actually done some things worth paying attention to.
Maybe even worth reading about.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
8hEthan Sherwood Strauss