Tebow, More Than A Caricature?

    Confused, figuring that my time in college had isolated me from high school trends, I asked one of the girls what he was doing. Incredulously, she looked at me as if I hadn’t experienced pop culture since Beatlemania. “He’s Tebowing,” she replied matter-of-factly.

    Recognizing the name, I asked her what she knew about Tim Tebow. She shrugged. “He kneels after making a touchdown, and he’s in a lot of magazines. And he’s super Christian, and he’s a virgin.”

    I laughed at the time, writing off her reply as an average high school girl’s ignorance of the sports world. But as the craze continued, I encountered more and more people who could replicate the man’s victory stance and comment on his piety but knew little to nothing about his actual job — playing football.

    This phenomenon of an athlete’s larger-than-life personality and antics overshadowing his career is nothing new. My mom didn’t know that Dennis Rodman played basketball but knew that he wore a wedding dress during a promotional event and dated Madonna; many of my friends use George Foreman Grills to make their grilled cheese sandwiches but have no clue that he was a boxer. As Brian Phillips from Grantland comments in his article about Mario Balotelli’s career as a soccer personality, “You can only generate so much cartoon publicity before people start to see you as a cartoon.”

    So, is this a problem? On the one hand, hearing about athletes’ exploits off the field is fun; it helps fans feel more connected to their favorite sports stars, generates publicity for the team and helps those who are not very involved in the sports world gain some sort of knowledge about the athletic realm.

    On the other hand, at the risk of being considered a stuffy, “anal-reactionary pundit” (as Phillips asserts), the media’s overzealous fascination with the smoke-and-mirrors aspect of athletes’ silliness can undermine the integrity of their sporting careers.

    As much as I respect Tebow’s determination to keep it in his pants until he’s married, I don’t need to hear about it every time I look for Jets stats. And I don’t really care that Mario Balotelli likes to shoot fireworks out of his bathroom window, that Dennis Rodman enjoys wearing sequined halter tops or that David Beckham looks fantastic in a pair of boxer briefs. All of this is great in small doses (especially those boxer briefs), but I want to know about the reason they’re on my television screen in the first place: their athletic talent. And when the common population knows more about a football player’s sex life (or lack thereof) than his touchdown record, the media has failed him by portraying him as a cartoon character instead of a living, breathing, exceedingly talented human being.

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