Tim Tebow: Magical White Person

Tebow has spent the last eight years or so with every advantage at his disposal, and he’s managed to run the NFL game play gamut from merely mediocre to preternaturally awful.
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Even if one wants to feel a genial non-interfering positivity or salutary indifference toward Tim Tebow and his “testimony,” the frequency and intensity with which it’s invoked by NFL Network and ESPN makes it intolerable. By week 14, Skip Bayless will be berating some poor Archbishop about their “beatification bias.”

This really isn’t Tebow’s fault. He’s said the right things, and provided a few crude but undeniably dramatic end-of-game moments. But he keeps getting cajoled into testifying, and his faith is the kind that leads him to relate the same story about his performance over and over with a kind of guileless sincerity. It might make you a little sick to your stomach because the media keeps re-administering the dose, but it itself isn’t toxic.

It is a little dumb, however. Last night, Rich Eisen dismissed Tebow’s replacement-level 9/20 completions for 104 yards, saying, “We’ve reached the point where we should stop mentioning [Tebow’s] stat line.” This wasn’t for any great repetition of the facts; instead, the NFL Network seemed positively allergic to discussing Tebow within the parameters of his actual job.

Michael Irvin took the time to proselytize while tossing Tebow softballs about being criticized and persecuted. I’m convinced Irvin has an invisible helmet like the one Magneto wears in the X-Men movies. Only, it blocks irony and self-awareness and, instead of keeping other minds from reading his, steadily maintains his own’s obliviousness toward itself and its surroundings. His recent support for gay rights aside, Irvin has mostly been the obnoxious sort of convenient Christian, discovering his faith after a legendary career of excess. However earnest Irvin’s newfound saved-ness, he has never let a concept like Christian humility impede his praising himself in the third person.

So of course it was Irvin asking Tebow if he felt that he was being marginalized or victimized by the media and by fans. The answer, of course, is yes, Michael: if there’s one group of people constantly getting the shaft in America, it’s white Christian males of comfortable economic backgrounds. But what makes it even worse is when you give them millions of dollars and international fame. At the rate the poor Job-like creature’s going, after his retirement, someone might foist a political appointment on him despite his total want of qualifications for the position.

One wonders if Irvin was even listening to the broadcast. Last night, Brad Nessler dropped the word “magical” at least twice to describe Tebow’s ability to scramble for 10 yards in a multi-option package that stretched the defense horizontally and created holes for him. The implication wasn’t even subtle: you could practically hear him yearning to say “miraculous” to describe the way Tebow kept resurrecting the 1st Down marker. You can hardly imagine it — perhaps because he so frequently doesn’t — but he executed some routine plays as if they were routine and, once relieved of having to act like an NFL-quality passer, unleashed fullback-ian havoc on a couple of bruising runs.

Perhaps Nessler was just being lazy or bowing to the convenient narrative desired by the people who promote Tebow and the NFL. Perhaps he buys his own line. After all, as a running quarterback, Tebow brings a compelling dynamism to the offensive game, one that even good defenses have difficulty accounting for. Yet there’s an interesting similarity and an interesting disparity in terms of the praise given to Tebow and other running QBs. In terms of the former, Tebow’s explosive physical potential — not execution — is often put argumentatively on par with Vick and Newton, the record be damned. But the disparity emerges in the anticipation of greatness from Tebow, the far inferior player  Vick and Newton, for all their breathtaking play, never receive the blessing of being described in such spiritual and transcendent language.

If the boilerplate about Vick and Newton can at times come queasily close to describing them as exceptionally well-bred beasts, the subtext of last night’s Tebow discussion was equally odd and off — to hear the NFL Network’s team tell it, Tebow did things on the football field that placed him uncomfortably above mere man and below only Christ, and maybe Steve Young.

A few years ago, Spike Lee had one of those “stopped clock” moments and made the observation that film had created a character called the Magical Negro. The Magical Negro character wasn’t a new thing, necessarily — RIP, Scatman Crothers — but Spike’s coinage was, and it stuck. Your Magical Negro is, generally, poor, undereducated, more a physical than a mental specimen — yet supernaturally gifted in such a way that he would touch the lives of whites. The Green Mile and The Legend of Bagger Vance are two particularly shallow examples, in which the soul of some aw-shucks black folk is able to look past the gross economic, social, sexual and civil rights injustice of Jim Crow in order to do some magical junk that provides a sublimely transformative moment for white people who then:

a. learn something about themselves,

b. marginally reduce their own Asshole Quotient,

c. go on being privileged and comfortable.

At this point, the sports media seems determined to make Tim Tebow the Magic Albino.

 If they’re not even subtle about the first part, they certainly don’t seem to mind getting everything else wrong and loudly so. While the Magical Negro is downtrodden and discriminated against, yet mystically gifted, Tebow has spent the last eight years or so with every advantage at his disposal, and he’s managed to run the NFL game play gamut from merely mediocre to preternaturally awful. Somehow, he’s managed to achieve this despite terrible adversity, like licensing deals.

But, really, that’s what makes his story so special. You have to find the ballad beneath the noise, the human struggle that lies somewhere on the other side of having some of the worst quarterbacking stats in history. There’s a power-running game there, sure, but it’s a wonder-working power. As with much of His grace through history, God has blessed the incremental acquisition of land, this time in Denver. And it’s created something truly magical: a mediocre white guy has achieved fantastic success in spite of reasonable estimations of his ability.

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