Today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On the third Monday of every January, we get to sit on our asses, away from our jobs or school, and celebrate the life of one of the most extraordinary human beings ever to grace God's green Earth. Dr. King championed for black rights in a time when the country that guaranteed them was so ready to hypocritically compromise. For some, the issues that Dr. King specifically addressed will not resonate emotionally the way it will for others. I'm not black. I have no idea what it means to be black in America in 2012, or how my parents would have felt to be black in 1960. So today means something different to me than it would to some of my friends, or my peers. For me, today is about a moral issue that had to be rectified, and that no matter the adversity in front of him, one man was able to overcome it.
That all being said, today means nothing for a lot of people. It's a day off from work that comes up on the calendar every year. It's not a day to spend time with your family, and give thanks for what you have. There are no barbecues, or parties. It's just a day to do your laundry, hit the gym or watch some basketball. Today means nothing. People don't seem interested in celebrating the life of a great person with no distinguishable flaws. And I don't know why.
Tim Tebow is a really good person. I'm not talking about football, obviously. He's terrible at that. But in regards to living as a human being in our society, he is a genuinely good person. In every single interview or press conference, I've seen him as a humble, gracious man. He's done nothing to suggest that he puts himself before the team, or that anything else (besides God) is more important than winning. But this goes beyond the field.
While still a student-athlete at the University of Florida, Tebow started the Tim Tebow Foundation, which, amongst its many philanthropic endeavors, is responsible for funding schools for underprivileged children in the Philippines, supporting the Dreams Come True program (similar to the Make-A-Wish Foundation) and partnering with CURE International which helps give care to debilitated children in developing nations. Tebow's organization, also in partnership with CURE International, has announced plans to build a childrens hospital in the Philippines. Recently ESPN columnist Rick Reilly spent some time with Tim and discovered that before any game, home or away, he picks out someone who is disabled or sick, and flies them and their families to the game, puts them up in a hotel, does personal meet-and-greets before kickoff (including playoff games) and plants them right on the 30-yard line with some incredibly swanky tickets.
This type of behavior isn't all that surprising. A lot of athletes, regardless of their affiliation with God, do a tremendous amount of charity work for both their local communities and the international world. There are people with far less money and fame who do the very same activities Tebow does, to far less public acclaim.
What is surprising is that unlike a lot of his contemporaries, Tim Tebow feels genuine. All of him. I don't think he formed his foundation for the positive publicity, or the incredible tax breaks I'm sure he's reaping. I don't feel like he is trying to raise money for a children's hospital in a country a hemisphere away because his agents, manager or employer told him he has to. I don't think that he would take time out of his schedule before a game (including two playoff games, and regular season games that meant just as much to his team) when he should be concentrating and preparing for an opposing team that wants to destroy him, if he didn't truly feel like it was his God-given responsibility to do so. In an age where Ray Lewis immediately thanks God before anyone else in his post-game interviews and Stephen Jackson shows reporters a tattoo of praying hands holding a gun on his abdomen, it's hard to take Tim Tebow seriously. It's hard to believe a person so earnest of spirit and pure of intention could survive and flourish in a business that is inherently filled with egomaniacs and self-serving human beings. But he does. And he is. Tim Tebow might be one of the last good guys in sports - or even in popular media.
So why do we all hate him so much?
People HATE Tim Tebow. Just hate him. In my lifetime, I haven't seen a backlash against one athlete like this outside of Kobe Bryant, Michael Vick, Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez.
People hate his unbelievable piousness and his constant shout-outs to JC. Some people might think that he's fake, and that everything that he puts forth every single day is part of an elaborate act to curry popularity amongst the public. I can imagine why people wouldn't like his straight forwardness, and how contrary and "uncool" he may seem when compared to the detached persona of other American athletes. A lot of people don't like his preachiness, and feel like his evangelical musings are "too Christian" for this increasingly-secular society.
I have always hated him because I don't think he's a good football player. He's not, and I think we all saw it against the Patriots on Saturday. I've written about it before, but I'll say it again - I don't think we can throw so much praise on a man who nearly costs his team the game for the first three quarters with his extraordinarily poor play, and yet manages to dig himself out of a hole that he created in the first place. The negative value he creates, in my mind, far outweighs what he does in the last few seconds of the fourth quarter.
Beyond his play however, I referred to Tim Tebow as a tremendous blowhard. But that's not because I thought he was arrogant or disingenuous - it's because that earnestness that Tebow so undeniably exudes is (in people I've encountered) generally fake.
As a learned more about him, he has gained my respect tenfold. Everything I've read and seen suggest to me that he is a good person because being a good person is the right thing to do. Despite the intense scrutiny on him, he never lashes out against a public that so deeply wants him to fail, and continues to play the games the best he can. He is the kind of man who would celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the reason it was created in the first place. Today wouldn't just be a day off for Tebow. It's a day to celebrate a truly great human being. While I can't respect his game, I can't help but respect that Tim is trying to stay true to himself in an industry where selfishness is the norm and modesty is quickly extinguished.
Before the Patriots game last week, a co-worker came into my office and asked who I would be rooting for. I said that even though every fiber of my being roots against any Boston-based professional sports team, I can't help but pull for New England to take down the Broncos, and take them down hard. My co-worker, being a diehard Patriots fan, asked me why I would do that. I simply replied "I want Tebow to go down, and to go down hard. I just want this to be over." My co-worker laughed and said "I think this whole thing is very funny."
"Because Tim Tebow is actually a good guy. Like, a legitimately good person. And everyone wants him to lose. Everyone! I mean, last week he played Ben Roethlisberger who is a legitimately bad person. He is an alleged sex offender! Isn't it funny that we all are rooting for a terrible human being over the one that is a actually good one?"
I laughed at his clever observation, and he left my office. And then I thought about it. A lot.
How was it that I, as a person who generally regards himself with good moral values, wanted all these other players of questionable character to win over a person who shares my beliefs?
Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual assault on more than one occasion. I still pulled for him over Tim Tebow. Tom Brady is an arrogant asshole who models for Ugg boots and is married to a supermodel. Bill Belichick has legitimately cheated to win football games and is known as one of the most unpleasant people in the NFL. I wanted both of them to win over Tim Tebow last night. If the Broncos had gone on to win, I would have wanted to Baltimore Ravens and Ray Lewis to beat them. Ray Lewis was once indicted on murder charges for two people. I would have supported him over Tim Tebow.
I can't explain it. In the few months that Tim Tebow re-entered my sphere of sports interest, this was probably the most lucid moment I had in all my Tebow-bashing. I would have rather had an alleged rapist, murderer and two undesirable, albeit to a much lesser degree, human beings win games than a man who spends his free time hanging out with sick kids and donates his money to helping poor kids in the Philippines.
What is wrong with me? What is wrong with everyone, for that matter?
In the WWE, the main event guy is John Cena. He is the modern day Hulk Hogan, super-charged with the world of social media and youtube clips. Cena, in so many ways, reminds me of Tim Tebow. The character he portrays on television is a man of, intentional or not, high Christian values. He fights for what is right and never backs down to other who takes advantage of the little guy. He often turns the other cheek, not sinking down to the low level of the opponent that would break the rules or act unsportsmanlike. His three key words are "Hustle, Loyalty and Respect." He seems to live by these words in every match he has and every interview he takes. He has respect for his opponents, respect for the business of professional wrestling and the utmost respect for the people who idolize him and essentially pay his bills.
Outside the ring, John seems very similar to the character he is on television. His biggest demographic is children, and seldom acts like anything but the role model we all know he is. He stays out of scandal and never strays too far from the massive responsibility he has as a hero for millions. He's granted over 200 wishes for the Make-A-Wish foundation, and is one of their most active celebrity members.
And people HATE him. Cena gets booed out of every single arena he's in. While children (and women) love him, their shrill shouts on the higher end of the register are more than often drowned out by the plethora of boos raining down from the teenage and adult men in the audience. People just hate how Cena very predictably fights for the right thing, and very irregularly (if ever) loses his temper. In a industry where the most popular superstars are on a sliding scale of white, gray and black, Cena firmly stays away from any shades of gray. He is straightforward, and whether it's by design or not, shows the most important values of Christianity. He rises above hate, as one of his many catchphrases said, and performs in the exact way that he sees fit to act. He knows he is a good person, and despite the cries of the audience for the WWE to turn him into a "bad guy" or for him to stray from the lily-white, sparkling-clean good guy he is, Cena stays true to the person he wants to be.
Much like Tim Tebow, people are all too ready to root against Cena, who our society would be considered a genuinely good person.
I don't know why we have a natural reaction to actively cheer against those people who embody the ideals of the society that we live in and routinely look to uphold. We should all WANT to be like Tim Tebow and John Cena, shouldn't we?
There's a lot of reasons that come to mind. Maybe we're all so used to seeing our heroes let us down. For every Derek Jeter, there's a Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds to shatter our belief that being the best on the field can come without the price of selling out your principles. For every Dirk Notwitzki, there's a Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Michael Jordan, whose off-court demeanors belie the smiling supermen that grace our wall posters. I just don't think that we can believe that someone is this good. Pessimism is the name of the game here.
Maybe we just don't like seeing everything we're not. Tim Tebow embodies the values of charity, modesty and compassion. He works hard to achieve, and when he does so, he tries as best as he can to share his wealth with people who need it more than he. Maybe seeing a man who is the ideal is a painful reminder that while everyone has the capability to achieve so much, very few actually do so.
Maybe, it's a combination of both those reasons. Maybe it's just not in our nature to think that a person like him really exists. Maybe we like seeing our "heroes" with shades of grey, like Kobe, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mike Tyson and Ben Roethlisberger. These men all are gifted with vast skill sets, and yet, are flawed in so many ways. While not ideal, their journey is much more reflective of our daily lives.
In 1938, two Jewish kids from Cleveland, Ohio created a comic book strip in the middle of World War II. They wanted to embody the most ideal traits of the common man and create a type of "super-man" that would be able to be America's champion in the face of evil. They created Clark Kent, a mild-mannered reporter who was secretly an alien from the planet Krypton. Raised by two parents on a small Kansas farm, Clark learned the most important values that our country was founded on, and even before he developed superpowers, he knew exactly how indomitable the human spirit could be. Superman then was not only a man who fought for what was right, but was also a man who had the power to enforce those ideals.
Superman went on to wild acclaim and astonishing popularity. Over the past 75 years, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's creation has become an American icon, with his "S" shield one of the most recognizable symbols in the entire world. This is what people wanted in 1939. He wouldn't have risen to so much prominence if that wasn't the case.
It's 2012 and I'm not sure that people want a Superman anymore. They don't want a guy without distinguishable flaws, who floats above us all and shows us everything we could be - but in our perception, everything we're not. People don't want to feel like they are being told, subtly or not, how to be good, and in their interpretation, are being talked down to. We want heroes that we can relate to. We want to look up to men who we can see reflections of ourselves in. People want a Batman; damaged, flawed, and all-too human. I don't know what changed, and finding out would go beyond the scope of this blog post. All I know is that the change happened and it shows in the attitude of our sports-watching public.
Will the pendulum swing the other way now? Counter-culture has always been the best way to be "cool" in Western society. So is being the ideal once again what we'll aspire to, seeing as the ideal is now counter-culture? I'm not sure if we're there yet. But Tim Tebow is.
I'm not saying that anyone who reads this has to love Tim Tebow. I sure don't. But I do respect him and how difficult it is to be Tim Tebow.