Tebow vs. Sam: A Tale of Two Draft Picks

Feel that? Something “historic” and “important” just happened. It might even be a “teachable moment,” and it’s certainly therapeutic. Why, liberals will be able to like their country just little bit more. Come on people, feel the love! 

A potential fourth round NFL draft pick has declared his “own truth,” and come out as gay. Having taken the “courageous” step of joining society’s most trendy and celebrated grievance group, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is now basking in the media adulation.

ESPN’s Chris Connelly stressed to Sam, “You could become the first openly gay player in the NFL, that’s a momentous thing.” And Connelly sounded momentous just saying it. To Sam’s contention that’s he’s “a football player,” Connelly, corrected him: “You’re a football player responsible for a landmark moment within American sports right now.” 

ESPN on Monday was a long parade of congratulatory guests, like columnist Kay Fagan, who used words like “authenticity” and “inclusion.” Fagan ended a rapturous column by saying of Sam, “His truth is now.” (Does homosexuality come with a separate truth? Or do you pay extra, like undercarriage coating?) 

Ok, lets simmer down and wait for the backlash. It’ll come. It has to when personal life and philosophy and social issues intersect with the NFL. Here it comes … Er, no? But when Tim Tebow entered the draft he encountered a rain of hate from people worried for the sport, people who resented having to hear about the personal beliefs of “Saint Timmy,” as CBS’s Pete Prisco called him in April, 2010. 

One Jeff Pearlman gently approached the issue in a Sports Illustrated blog post cleverly titled, “I want Tim Tebow to Fail.” He wanted him to fail “because a famous Tim Tebow is a dangerous Tim Tebow.” Tebow, you see, “scares me, and – judging from his father’s website, his upcoming Super Bowl ad and mounting knowledge of his way of life – he should scare you, too.” 

Oh well, Pearlman was just one hate-filled guy, an outlier. Or was he? In Slate, Jason Fagone warned that “Tim’s career moves are motivated by a search for an ever-larger soapbox.” After seeing video of the Tebow household on draft night, Boston sports radio talker Fred “Toucher” Toettcher said, “It looked like some kind of Nazi rally … So lily-white is what I'm trying to say. Yeah, Stepford Wives.” 

Here’s how The Examiner relayed the anecdote of what happened when Tebow and other prospective draftpicks sat to take the Wonderlic intelligence test. Tebow supposedly asked that the group bow their heads before they started the test. “‘Shut the f--k up,’ [someone responded.] Others players in the room then laughed.”

The Examiner went on to explain helpfully, “Wearing Bible verses under his eyes naturally endeared Tebow to certain Christians, while many others found the behavior an obnoxious and gratuitous display of Christian Imperialism … one can easily understand the player's annoyance and frustration with Tebow's insensitive and presumptuous request. Tebow is not alone in his insensitivity and presumption. Tebow's behavior is but one of countless examples of an obnoxious and toxic Christian arrogance that permeates our society … true Christians who happen to take their faith seriously, and have little use for hucksters and showmen like Tebow and his evangelical family.

You have to wonder if The Examiner finds Sam’s declaration of his proclivities a display of “Gay Imperialism,” and similarly obnoxious and toxic. Probably not, because observers seem to be placing a premium on Sam’s sense of self-esteem. 

On ESPN former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis thought it was super that Sam “is comfortable with who he is.” Bettis also said Sam’s announcement is an opportunity for the NFL “to make this a point to communicate to every NFL team that now you have to understand, you have to bring these players to this moment.” 

So Bettis seems to be saying that the NFL now has to step up and change itself because of Sam and his sexuality. Funny, but nobody demanded that the NFL make sure nothing happened to offend Tim Tebow or to smooth his way through the minefield of professional sports. 

And in fact, the derision he received during the draft followed him onto the Denver Broncos. And the New York Jets. And the New England Patriots. Tebow’s career hasn’t panned out, but that hasn’t mollified his critics. “Inside the NFL” analyst and former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth said as much in 2011 when he called it “unbelievable that one of the best kids – just pure kids that's ever come into the NFL – is hated because of his faith, because of his mission work, because of the fact that he wears it on his sleeve, because of the fact that he lives his life that he talks about.”

The liberal sports media are in paroxysms of glee (pun intended) now about Michael Sam, as they were last year over gay NBA player Jason Collins. And if you’re reluctant to join them, you’re probably a ‘heterosexual religious zealot,’ in the words of one of the high priests of liberal sports reporting.

Who knows? Maybe you even want Michael Sam and “his truth” to fail. But if you do, you’ll never write for the mainstream sports media.

Matthew Philbin
Matthew Philbin
Matt Philbin is Managing Editor of MRC Culture