Drew Gooden/Tim Tebow

by Scott Raab on December 12, 2011

I heard a lot of great stories while I was working on The Whore of Akron. The best one isn’t in the book. Its hero is Drew Gooden, who played with the Cavs for four seasons during the LeBron epoch, and it takes place on a road trip, when the Cavs’ charter lands in Toronto for a game against the Raptors.

As Jason Whitlock has noted, Toronto is known to many NBA players as ‘White Vegas,’ a place to party and get laid. Gooden, a sweet-natured fellow, though not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, was so looking forward to his visit that when the Canadian customs agent boarded the team’s plane and asked if anyone had anything to declare, Drew hollered, ‘YEAH — WE’RE HERE TO FUCK YOUR WOMEN.’

The way I heard it, the entire team then sat on the plane for a couple of hours, cooling their heels while the agent slowly searched everyone’s luggage.


Because the only NFL team I actually care about is a joke, I don’t watch much football. But the Tim Tebow phenomenon is pretty compelling, not least because of the hostility toward him among folks who seem to find his professions of faith intolerable. Evanglism is essential to some Christian sects, and Tebow’s witnessing isn’t strange or singular. Because of his fame, he has been asked about his religion often, and every time I’ve heard him discuss it, he sounds like a nice young guy. The worst I can say about him is that I think he’s sincere in his delusions.

While watching him play against the Bears earlier, my twitter timeline was full of derision and loathing for him, most of it based on his religion, some of it from people who would be fighting mad if you accused them of bigotry. Yet I’m not sure what else to call it. It’s vile, it’s relentless, and it’s based on nothing more than the man’s faith in his version of God.

I’ve been called a ‘hater’ thousands of times for my feelings toward LeBron James, and I’ve heard from plenty of folks eager to ascribe my feelings to racism. It’s a conversation worth having, and I’ve enjoyed more than a few of them on the subject. I also understand that it’s far more palatable — and far less dangerous — to mock the majority culture. Still, much of what’s said about Tebow is brutally dumb and ugly, full of a profound ignorance and vicious contempt that say nothing about Tim Tebow, and a whole lot about the jagoffs saying it.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous January 1, 2012 at 3:24 pm

I see your point, but I think you’re way off target. Some of what you say is no doubt happening. But that isn’t why Tebow is singled out for loathing. Think about it. How many times have you seen or heard athletes thank God for their success? Millions? That’s what it feels like. In every other instance, the response by most of us is just eye-rolling. So why all the Tebow “hating”?

The vast majority of Tebow-hating I hear is not about hating his religion. It’s about how over-rated he is. That is the explicit reason for most complaints. And in my view it’s totally justified. I’m sure you know the arguments: one of the worst quarterbacks in the league is also the most fawned upon. Allegedly because “he just wins”. He can go 10 for 18 for 180 yards and score ten points, and the other team’s quarterback can go 30 for 45 for 300 yards and three touchdowns, but because Denver’s defense gives up fewer points than the other team’s defense, Tebow gets credit for the victory. It happens time and time again. By any objective measure he is one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. Yet he is also one of the most beloved and most fawned upon. That’s what people hate about him. I have nothing against the guy personally. He tries as hard as he can, and seems a sincerely nice guy. I’ve got nothing against him. But the cult of Tebow disgusts me — something he is not responsible for personally, mind you. I don’t hate Tebow’s worship. I hate the Tebow worship.

Where religion comes in, for me, is this. The cult of Tebow is not really based on the argument that “he just wins”. Tebow’s Jersey was the number one selling jersey in the league BEFORE HE EVER PLAYED A SNAP. People loved Tebow, over-rated Tebow, worshipped Tebow already. Why is that?

I think what a lot of people sense is that a huge number of fans, and sportswriters, love Tebow primarily because he is a Christian (and because he is white). That’s understandable. Lots of Jewish fans loved Hank Greenberg because he was Jewish. Lots of African Americans (and white people who were for civil rights) loved seeing Jackie Robinson succeed because he was black. People like to see heroes emerge from their group, whatever it is. We cheer women athletes, disabled athletes, injured athletes, underdogs from any minority group.

It’s a little less charming, though, when the people on top cheer their own for asserting their dominance over the subordinate groups. Not evil, necessarily, though a little squirmy at best. It’s not really seen as cool to yearn for a “great white hope” to reassert white pride. So people tend to do so in code.

If people were open in their love of Tebow because he’s white and he’s Christian and he represents people like them in a world filled with people of color, I could live with that. But that’s not what they do.

They praise his guts. His grit. His intestinal fortitude. His will to win. His inherent virtue. His “finding a way to win.”

Do black athletes really lack guts, grit, intestinal fortitude, and will to win? Just asking the question is insulting.

When Tebow’s win streak inevitably wanes, will the Tebow-worshippers switch their allegiance en masse to the nearest black athlete who is playing his heart out and “finding a way to win”? I’ll be waiting your column on that phenomenon. Until then, I’ll keep rolling my eyes at Tebow’s interjection of religion into sports, just as I do when every other athlete thanks God for his touchdown — not out of hostility to religion, but in amazement at the idea that God intervenes in sporting events at such a granular level. And I’ll keep feeling a much greater irritation at all the hero-worship heaped on the undeserving white, Christian, below-average quarterback, at the expense of people more deserving.

There is bias in sports. Some of it may be anti-religious bias. I just don’t think that’s what Tebow-hating represents.

The smaller, less-talented white guy who manages to eke out a career as a middle infielder is praised endlessly for his hustle, grit, scrappy attitude, and “getting after it.” The non-white player who is trying just as hard, and playing better, isn’t given the same love by white audiences. Sometimes this is racial loyalty to whites, and racial bias against non-whites. Sometimes it’s legitimate — there are tons of lazy, entitled, truly non-heroic people who achieve athletic success, and are unduly worshipped for it. Honoring sincere effort over innate talent is fine. Sometimes. Sincere effort isn’t accurately gauged because of the color of the player’s skin. How often have you heard Latino or black infielders praised for their nonstop hustle, grit, and getting after itness? Many have dedicated their entire lives to their craft just as much as David Eckstein and Nick Punto, but somehow are not quite as revered by white people. I don’t hate people for having a surge or pride and excitement when one of their own succeeds. I just hate seeing that racial bias passed off as the pure, unbiased acknowledgment of virtue and hard work.

Until Tebow came along, this was just a long-running joke about white players who got endless plaudits for their hustle and grit. Tebow raised the stakes. I never was moved to comment before, but I was truly astounded at the disjuncture between his actual achievements and his fan worship. I really don’t know what else to attribute this to besides white Christians finding and clinging to their Great White Hope. I find the whole thing embarrassing and will be greatly relieved when the bubble bursts.

Does this make me a hater? I don’t think so.


Anonymous January 1, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Man, that’s good stuff. Clear, cogent, and strong. Thanks for posting this.


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