A few weeks ago, I made the following analogy on Twitter - and Kate Brodock of Syracuse University suggested I turn it into a blog post. Soccer fans = Tim Tebow fans = social media experts.
Now, of course there are exceptions to every rule. This doesn't apply to all soccer fans/Tim Tebow fans/social media experts. But here's what I mean:
All three groups are passionate about their topic. The subjects of all three are often marginalized, covered in a overly critical manner or just looked down on by the establishment - be it the sports media establishment in soccer, pro football "experts" with Tebow and traditional media outlets with social media experts.
In turn, all three turn so passionate about their subject, they become almost evangelical. In their eyes, there is nothing bad about soccer, about Tim Tebow, about social media.
If you criticize it, you're not just wrong. You just don't get it. You are a hater. You are a dinosaur. You are an ugly American. You have a closed mind.
In turn, any kind of criticism seems to be delivered softly. "It's not that I hate soccer … yes, Tim Tebow is a winner everywhere he goes … yes, social media is becoming important … " Which also means that any criticism or honest questions or honest debate about the subjects get shouted down in blur of "You just don't get it …"
I'm far more fascinated by the media coverage of Tim Tebow than I am by either soccer or social media. The coverage of him seems to combine the atypical quarterback-angle of a Cam Newton or Donovan McNab, combined with the Great White Hope angle of Doug Flutie, mixed with the intangibles, "He's a winner" angle of Derek Jeter.
But more fascinating is the religion angle.
Tebow's devout, evangelical Christian faith is a major part of who he is, of his popularity and a major part of his coverage. Witness any columnist who criticizes Tebow and how he or she will hedge it with a "This is not about his faith …" and then inevitably there's a response column when he or she answers messages criticizing him for being anti-Christian.
I don't subscribe to the persecuted Christian in America storyline that seems to pop up every now and then, especially when some clerk says Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. Let's be honest - to paraphrase a post on sportsjournalists.com, if American religious life was a football game, Christianity would be ahead 59-3 in the fourth quarter and still have the starters in.
But traditional media doesn't do religion well (a point brought up by Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead on Twitter) - and this is especially true of sports media. Part of it, I think, is the nature of the type of person who becomes a reporter. A reporter has to be, by nature, a skeptic. someone who needs proof, who needs confirmation, who needs to see it to believe it. Faith is the opposite of that. Faith is belief in things unseen. Blessed are they who haven't seen and yet believe, Jesus said to Thomas (the doubter, also my confirmation name. Clearly, there's something to the fact that I picked that name before picking a career in the media).
The skepticism is well deserved. How many public displays of faith have we seen from people using their religion as a cover? The notion of winning a football game because you prayed is hard to fathom (the whole "what if someone on the other team prayed to win, too?" question). And for those of us who believe that you should lock your door and pray in secret where only He can see us, public displays of faith are off-putting - even if genuine and heartfelt.
I've always wondered why so many Tebow fans assume he's being criticized because of his faith. And I'm not talking about specific criticism of his faith, like Jake Cutler's a few weeks ago. I'm talking any criticism of his game. Why do some fans believe that's supposedly motivated by an anti-Christian belief? It's a question I'm genuinely curious about, one I'd love an answer to.
For someone who's been in the spotlight for a long time, Tebow's a bit of a novelty in NFL terms. He's started six games, and he's made all of them fun, must-see events. I'm interested to see how the coverage of Tebow evolves as he becomes more established in the NFL. Will the novelty wear off? Will the reflexive, cliched "He's a winner" storyline morph into a breakdown of the specifics that make him successful? And will Tebow's faith continue to shape the narrative or just a part of it?