From Bench to Spotlight

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Yesterday was an interesting and ironic day in sports. Tim Tebow, one of the most debated quarterbacks of recent years, was cut by the Jets – one of the most disappointing teams with one of the most obnoxious coaches in the NFL.

The timing of the cut seems intentional. It occurs just days after the draft, meaning that teams needing a QB, drafted one (not that there were that many good options in the draft). With the Jets waiting until after the draft, it decreases Tebow’s chances of being picked up in free agency. It seems like typical obnoxious and uncharitable behavior from the team who does a disproportionate amount of trash-talking to winning.

Granted, Tim Tebow is no John Elway. He doesn’t have a fantastic arm or delivery, but he did for the Broncos what Peyton Manning has been unable to do for them yet – win playoff games. If he were simply mediocre like so many NFL quarterbacks – Kevin Kolb, Jason Campbell, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mark Sanchez, the media would talk about his lack of productivity and end the story. Despite not being elite (like Joe Flacco claims to be) and despite backing up a quarterback who has a worse passing rating, Tebow gets media attention over and over. He’s a big name in the NFL. Most would agree that it has some to do with his football playing but much more to do with the way he lives out his faith.

Now that Tebow is a king without a crown, the media can lavish him with all sorts of creative titles like “the failed Messiah of football.” Forget the fact that the Jets terribly mismanaged him, never committed to running the plays they promised when they signed him, and released him in perhaps the most backhanded, uncharitable way possible. Granted, many have argued that the only reason the Jets signed him was so they didn’t have to play against him. Maybe the same could be said about the way they released him.

Yes, yes, that’s business. God forbid business be ethical and considerate of employees. At least now those people who felt that Tim Tebow’s public display of affection to Jesus was too much, can go back to watching Rex Ryan run his disgusting mouth on television. And Rex Ryan can say whatever he wants whenever he wants without that pesky convicting presence in the locker room. F-bombs away!

While stories about Tebow’s failure in New York trickle through the airwaves and interwebs, another story ignited. Wizards backup Jason Collins declared that he was gay. This marks the first active American pro sports player to come out of the closet.

If you’re wondering who Jason Collins is, you wouldn’t be the first. He’s not exactly a scoring machine, averaging just 3.6 points per game over his 13 season career. Just to put his playing in perspective, he’s totaled about 2600 points in his career. Lebron James has almost scored that much in one season (2478 in 2005-06).

Collins’ revelation has done for him what his career could not. It has put him in the spotlight. He’s on the cover of May’s issue of Sports Illustrated. He’s being compared to Jackie Robinson and heralded as a hero.

Wait a second. Jackie Robinson? Lest we think that all Jackie Robinson did for the game was be black, let’s take a look at his statistics. In his 10 year career, his batting average was .311. In his rookie year, he scored 125 runs and won rookie of the year. In 1949, he hit an astounding .344 average, tallying 122 runs, 124 RBIs, and 37 stolen bases. That year he struck out only 27 times despite 593 at-bats. Oh, and he won the MVP. Despite all the racial tension, Jackie Robinson was selected to the all star game in six consecutive years.

There’s a reason why Jackie Robinson’s number – 42 is retired in all of Major League Baseball. Yes, it has to do with the fact that he was the first African American to break the color barrier, but the reason he was able to lead an end to racial segregation in baseball had to do with what he did on the field. He showed that he could compete. In fact, he showed that he could play better than everyone else, no matter what their race.

Yes, Jason Collins did something no one else in American sports history has done, and maybe he will be treated differently, sadly, maybe even disparagingly. But Jason Collins is no Jackie Robinson. He hasn’t earned that right by his play. Considering that much of the mainstream media and top NBA players applauded Collins’ admission, he’s not even facing adversity anywhere like Robinson. Much of the media and baseball players in the 1940s told Robinson he wasn’t welcomed. It would be career suicide for anyone to say such hate speech to Collins today.

It’s safe to assume that neither Collins nor Tebow wanted all this attention. They wanted to be themselves and play the game, but the way the media, their respective leagues, and teams treat them says everything about our society.

It seems rather ironic. On the same day, one athlete, despite mediocre play, gets heralded as a hero for his attraction to men. Even though he’s 33 and at the end of his career, many are now hoping he’ll stick around because it’s “good for the NBA,” even though his athletic contribution will be minimal. Meanwhile, the other gets sent away, labeled as unwelcome and unwanted, despite his proven record to win games, his incredible sportsmanship, his decent quarterback rating, his philanthropic efforts, his ability to tolerate a foul mouthed and perverse coach, and his patient, humble, and longsuffering personality. Kobe Bryant wouldn’t last a day before blowing up Twitter if Rex Ryan were his coach.

The media has an amazing power to not only tell us what happens in the news but tells us what the news is. Tim Tebow has been thrust into the spotlight like no other mid level quarterback. Carson Palmer couldn’t afford to buy the airtime that Tim Tebow has undeservedly gotten. It’s all been done to discredit the hype – to prove to those Tebow admirers that he’s not worth the airtime they’re giving him. Meanwhile, they’ll all be talking about Jason Collins, saying little to nothing about his basketball skills.

Time will tell what will become of these men as society reflects on history. But it is clear that Tim Tebow is enduring much more adversity than Jason Collins. It’s applauded to be a gay athlete in our society, but dare you be an athlete filled with faith, evangelistic charisma, and philanthropic efforts, you better have the stats and the video to backup your worth. It would have been easier for Tim Tebow to be gay than to be a Jesus freak. The good news for Tebow is that adversity not only makes us stronger and stronger-willed. It makes us look that much bigger when we’re remembered in history. Just look at Jackie.

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