Dear Tim Tebow: You Don’t Matter, But Here’s How You Can

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Dear Tim,

I will be blunt because I know you can handle it. Your career as an NFL quarterback that matters is over. You’ll certainly see some action in New York as a backup. And it’s not inconceivable that some act of God (in the form of a thunderbolt to Mark Sanchez’s ligaments or noggin) might get you back in as a starter. But neither the All-American apple-cheeked aw-shucks image nor your legions of flyover-state fans are going to help when the knives come out in the country’s toughest media market.

I genuinely liked watching you in Denver. It’s because you seem to play with the skills of an average guy…despite the benefit of constant coaching attention for your entire football life. You’re like Mark Wahlberg in Rock Star, except you had the equivalent of private music lessons for twenty years and people still somehow count you as the underdog. You’re all enlarged heart and hustle and hammerhead determination surrounding tiny vestigial talent. It was fascinating to watch your version of anachronistic football, and I loved that it disturbed the NFL status quo. You were a subversive element, a real threat to high scoring, the aerial game, the packaged moment. But three yards and a dying quail pass doesn’t play on SportsCenter.

For a while it looked like Denver might actually play the parlay on you, before cooler heads prevailed and Elway eviscerated Tebowmania. Order has been restored. You’re back on the bench on a team that can and will safely ignore you. You’ll be traded in a year or two to a warm weather club, grab a few headlines with an owner desperate to fill seats, and then Father Time will roll in low or come helmet-to-helmet. Knee, shoulder, ribs, concussion…that’s your reward for taking on one too many linebackers and grinding it out old style.

So, yeah, it’s over. You don’t matter anymore.

But here’s how you can matter again.

You command an immense amount of love, respect, and adulation that goes way beyond the realm of sports. You seem like a genuinely decent person who actually gives a damn about other people.  You have charisma. You have principles and you seem to live up to them (not an easy task for anyone, let alone someone in the public eye). And yes, you’re unapologetically religious, and while that’s not my personal cup of tea you seem to channel that energy toward doing good work.

What you have here is the basis for something big. Something really transformative. Earl Woods liked to say that his son would change the world, and even if that just sounded like one father’s egomania there was a few years there where it actually seemed possible. Tiger once had an angle on something transcendent that went way beyond sports (even if it was a PED-fueled transcendence as some suspect) but that’s all gone. Now he’s just a golfer with a checkered past and a nasty temper.

In talent and personality, you’re Woods’ opposite. But I believe you can matter in a way that he could have, but now never will.

Here’s my challenge. You have evangelical cred and everyman charm. You have fame and a following. You offer a life of example rather than judgment. So do the obvious thing and run for public office, but — and here’s the hard part — you need to come in fundamentally challenging conservative dogma. Offer a new kind of religiously motivated conservative politician. Imagine what might be possible, how you might unite opposites with a few very clear positions:

  • “I’m religious, and I believe every person in this country has the right to marry.”
  • “I’m motivated by Christ’s example, so I’m focusing on the poor and the outcast first.”
  • “I’m conservative, and I really care about conserving the environment.”
  • “I’m against abortion, but I’m also against controlling women’s bodies. We can find a satisfactory compromise on this.” (Okay, that last one is really thorny, I admit.)

Maybe this all sounds hopelessly naive. Maybe your heartland fans would turn on you, brand you a traitor (or a liberal). Maybe you’d become the sports version of a Dixie Chick. Maybe it’s just too soon or straight-up impossible for such a genuinely unifying figure to exist in American politics, especially on the right. Hell, I’m not even sure what your political views are. Jerry Falwell might well be your homeboy. You could be totally Old Testament in your social views. I don’t think so, though. Even though you’ve been hanging out with some pretty hardcore Christian folks, and you made that Focus on the Family ad with you mom, you’ve played things pretty close to the vest so far. Hard right beliefs don’t really seem to match your actions either.

A friend of mine thinks that you’re not the transforming figure that conservative politics really needs, that you’ll be happily co-opted by the conservative establishment, that your Christian beliefs are too conventional and rigid to bridge differences. Maybe he’s right. But guess what? Young people — young conservative, evangelical people — are sick of the culture wars as well. Even conservative political operatives know they’re on the wrong side of history.

What if “Tebowing” could come to mean something more than a melodramatic gesture on a football field? Maybe it could mean something completely different: finding common ground with those who see differently, or choosing partnership over power, or living morally without moralizing about others.

The sun is setting on Tim Tebow, football star. But Tim Tebow, public figure and political force for peace and cooperation? It has a ring to it. Taking on the culture wars would be a lot more difficult than making it as an NFL quarterhalfback with a terrible arm. But if JC is really motivating you, if God really has your back, let’s see you use this power to push positive social change instead of putting points on the board, or propping up stale political platforms.

Sincerely,

A Fan

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