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The Mercy Rule

Leave Tim Tebow Alone!

It is better to let Tebow be the thoroughly outmatched quarterback he is than to turn him into a humped-to-death abstraction. Not even someone with his baffling passing mechanics deserves that.

by David Roth
Jan 18 2012, 9:50pm

Tim Tebow die-hards are a diverse group, at least by the NFL's Dockers-ed-up standards. There are the Young Earth Creationists, elated to cheer for a quarterback who shares their belief that humans and dinosaurs lived together in a Flintstonian Eden. There are the college football paleoconservatives, who thrill to the opportunity to experience the Superior Integrity and Heart of SEC-ugly offense on Sunday. There are Denver Broncos fans who are queasily/gratefully embracing their quarterback, and there are ineptitude fetishists who can only achieve orgasm while watching a pass thud to earth a dozen yards beyond the outstretched hands of the intended receiver.

All of them got what they wanted from Tim Tebow this season, which was, more or less, the thrill of discovering the shoulderpadded equivalent—at least in terms of cheap heat, righteous ineptitude, sex-appeal-to-nightmare-people, and boffo hatefuck-y anti-popularity—of Sarah Palin. But, long before the New England Patriots ended Denver's season last weekend with their usual poker-faced brutality (the 45-10 final score somehow understates the lopsidedness and fistful-of-Klonopin dullness of the game), even those die-hards had likely surpassed the limits of their own personal Tebow-tolerance. Given the saturation coverage Tebow has received of late, it has been almost impossible not to have maxed-out on Tebow. You'd have to be insane to still care about this starry-eyed, punter-armed doofus. Or you'd have to be Skip Bayless.

Skip Bayless, if you don't know—and good for you if you don't—is the barkingly confident, discomfitingly pleather-faced penis-puppet/defective congressman that ESPN appointed to lead the charge on their Total Tebow Saturation Campaign over the last few months. In the same way that, say, Huffington Post humps away at Google trends through "Famous Person X SLAMS Famous Person Y" headlines and the Drudge Report trawls for creepo bigots, ESPN recognized that its audience had a seemingly bottomless thirst for that flavorless, alcohol-free Tebow-juice. That Tebow's status as a culture-war talisman has always been more interesting than his vanilla-flavored-beef personality and profoundly meh quarterbacking ability didn't prevent ESPN from dedicating itself to testing the premise that Tebow's constituency of the aforementioned die-hards, born-again aunts, and doomed Republican presidential candidates seemingly could not get enough of this particular rectangular-shaped home-schooled option quarterback.

And so ESPN, and then the media at large, gave that audience more Tebow than anyone could stand—conversations about Tebow and conversations about conversations about Tebow, with HuffPost-ian wet-dream SEO convergences of the LeBron-James-talks-about-Tim-Tebow variety mixed in. Newspaper and web columnists staked out strident Tebow-related positions, reversed them just as stridently, and then staked them out again; TV pundits roared; Skip Bayless stood outside Tebow's condo in suburban Denver, holding aloft a boombox blasting Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" (and, more disturbingly, Peaches' "Fuck The Pain Away.") Every website that values traffic—which is to say every website, which is to say that you've probably noticed we're not writing about women's golf right now—went big on the scatter-armed, homily-dispensing doof who helped back the 8-8 Broncos into a playoff spot. It was the sports media economy working at peak effectiveness, and it sucked like crazy.

It sucked in part because it took a potentially interesting athlete and turned him into a Kardashianian/Palinesque mirror-ball of celebrity insignificance. Tim Tebow is an irritating, fascinating, sui generis and intermittently exhilarating-to-watch professional athlete, not a buzz-noun about which other buzz-nouns periodically have opinions. Tebow is actually pretty terrible to watch right now. Although any football fan who values the unexpected should support the idea of an option-style, run-or-pass quarterback, Tebow is an exceptionally ungraceful passer, and where most option quarterbacks run with the grace of a running back, Tebow moves with the stiff, straight-line determination of an especially aggro nose tackle returning a fumble, or a Truckasaurus. Still, the commoditization of Tim Tebow sucked because it always sucks watching a human get ground down into meme fodder.

Letting Tim Tebow be just another big guy with a football doesn't mean he'll be more or less loved; that's still on us to decide. But it's better, for him and everyone else, to let Tebow be the stuffed-animal-eyed, thoroughly outmatched quarterback he is than to turn him into a loathed, humped-to-death abstraction. No one, not even someone with Tebow's baffling passing mechanics, deserves that.


Previously – The NCAA Is a Donut Burger