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Trahan: Tebow’s torture at the hands of the media

Kevin Trahan

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Of all the Miami Dolphins’ losses this season – that number is now six and counting – likely none of them brought more mixed feelings to Miami owner Steve Ross than Sunday’s 18-15 overtime loss to the Denver Broncos.

It was the most heartbreaking loss of the year, but it brought with it a boost in ticket sales and national exposure unheard of for a game featuring teams with a combined 1-9 record, all thanks to an opposing quarterback named Tim Tebow.

When Denver announced that Tebow would be its starting quarterback against Miami, over 10,000 tickets were sold – likely to University of Florida fans wanting to see the former Gators great – and the game drew more TV viewers than the Green Bay-Minnesota game that day.

The huge TV draw and media frenzy surrounding the game had nothing to do with the game itself, but rather with Tebow’s presence.

Tebow is arguably the most polarizing player in sports. Sports fans are rarely indifferent toward him – they either love him or hate him, regardless of their team affiliation.

Regardless of their attitude toward him, sports fans will tune in to watch, and that makes him invaluable to the media.

Ever since he came in as a backup in the 2007 BCS Championship game, Tebow has been one of the most discussed players in sports. He was a star on the field, leading the Gators to a second national title two years later and winning the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore.

However, it was his off-field actions that brought him so much fame, endearment and scrutiny. A devout Christian, Tebow was known for his faith and missionary work that he did in the Philippines.

The media saw something in Tebow – a chance to portray a superstar athlete as a great person off the field – and at first, the public liked the feel-good story.

But as Tebow’s stature on the field grew, so did his story off the field and the exaggerated coverage from national media outlets. The most guilty party, ESPN, titled a segment “Tim Tebow: The Chosen One.”

The increased obsession with Tebow by the media started to turn a number of sports fans against the star quarterback. Those who loved him rose to his defense, further angering the critics.

After Tebow graduated, the combatants found a new battlefield, as a number of analysts claimed he could never be a starter in the NFL, while others defended him.

It’s too early to judge whether Tebow will be a star, but what’s fascinating is how much support and criticism he has received after such a small evaluation period.

The media continued to follow the story far beyond draft day and made the backup quarterback the most covered and popular athlete on the Denver roster.

Personal views aside, it’s hard to say that Tebow has solidified himself as an NFL starter. His team did beat Miami, but it needed a comeback in the fourth quarter to take down one of the worst teams in the NFL. His stats have been average, and while he has proved he can still make plays with his feet, he has struggled to throw the ball when given the chance, going 13-of-27 for 161 yards and a 91.7 quarterback rating against the lowly Dolphins.

That’s not a stat line that a top quarterback would put together against the Dolphins, not even close.

However, many national media outlets made Tebow out to be a star following the victory.

An ESPN headline read “Tebow defies odds, leads Broncos to win.” That’s about as accurate as the commercial where Tebow, a five-star recruit in high school and the third-ranked quarterback in the country according to Scout.com, states “they said I could never be a Division I quarterback.”

Tebow didn’t defy any odds. He beat the Dolphins. ESPN knows that – but it also knows that both sides of the “Tebow Divide” will click that link. The more it builds Tebow up, the more it polarizes the fans, which means an increase in page views.

Of everyone involved in the Tebow debate, the media is the most to blame for turning an athlete into such a hero to some and such a villain to others.

The media is supposed to uphold integrity in its reporting, but many news outlets sensationalized Tebow’s accomplishments, both on and off the field. Nobody would hate Tebow for his accomplishments if they weren’t sensationalized, but because of the media, many do.

Tebow was a great college football player. He has done some great things off the field. And right now, he’s an average NFL player at best.

He’s not the “chosen one” and he has rarely “defied the odds.” That’s not a slight to Tebow, it’s just the truth, and the media seems to have ignored that truth at times.

Of course, Tebow shares some of the blame.

He claims to be humble, but comments like the one in his commercial about becoming a Division 1 quarterback seem hypocritical.

What has generated the most negativity is that Tebow seems to have bought into all of the hype the media has fed him.

“Others who say I won’t make it are wrong. They don’t know what I’m capable of and what’s inside of me. My family and my friends have been bothered by what’s gone on, and I tell them to pay no attention to it. I’m relying, as always, on my faith,” he told the Denver Post in August. “I’ll always use the negativity as more motivation to work even harder and become even stronger. I’ll practice as good as I can, because I know that I play even better with the qualities I have – leadership, my ability to make something happen in games, winning.”

There’s an old cliché that actions speak louder than words, and while humble people typically let their actions show, Tebow has been all talk with little to show for it.

If you really are the best at something, then you shouldn’t need to tell people you are. If you really are a leader, you shouldn’t have to beg for people to believe you.

If you need that attention, it shows insecurity, and it seems that the media has put so much pressure on him to succeed that he has forgotten his humility along the way.

This Tim Tebow bares little resemblance to the excited young freshman who threw that jump pass touchdown nearly five years ago in a national championship game win against Ohio State.

That’s sad, but it’s Tebow, himself, who helped perpetuate the change, by buying into the media hype surrounding him.

Time will tell if Tebow can succeed as an NFL quarterback, but regardless of whether his teams are 16-0 or 0-16, the media will continue to exploit his presence and polarize him even more.

That’s too bad, because it’s not fair to subject anyone to that kind of pressure, not even the “chosen one.”

Sports writer Kevin Trahan covers the Wildcats for Scout.com. He can be reached at kevintrahan2015@u.northwestern.edu

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