Monday, July 27, 2009

The Problem with Perfection

As SEC Media Days drew to a close, the oft repeated refrain regarding Tim Tebow was his “perfection.” And if you don’t believe it, check out the selection of articles and blogs at the bottom of this post.

The problem is that “perfection” is as two dimensional as Superman and the eye black that Tebow wears. Tebow is neither two dimensional nor perfect. And his faults are on full view, like the rest of us, because ultimately your strengths unchecked morph into your faults.
Tebow is known for the “passion” he has for the game. His ability to “will” a win, coupled with his determination and intensity. Determination, willpower, and resolve, in any given situation, can also be easily described as being “stubborn.” When asked what some of Tebow’s annoying habits were Dan Mullen, his former coach, reluctantly offered up “Boy, you know, he can be a little stubborn in his beliefs sometimes.”
Tebow also seems to suffer from poor decision making at times. In Austin Murphy’s recent SI cover story, Tebow doesn’t wear a seat belt in the van ride to the prison visit and ducks from view of the police. Nor does he wear a helmet on his scooter (here, and at 3:12) despite the fact that a fellow teammate, Michael Guilford, died of a fatal head wound in a motorcycle accident in 2007 as a result of not wearing a helmet. Instead, Tebow wears a bracelet to memorialize him.
These examples may seem trite when compared to the various off the field infractions committed by athletes that pepper the news on a daily basis. But all the signs are there that Tebow, despite all his good natured humility, suffers from feeling as invincible as the average guy and “let’s the Gator speak for him” from time to time.
In Murphy’s SI piece, it was also revealed that the “immense pressure” of the National Championship game wore on Tebow and began to get him down. On Dan Patrick’s recent radio show, he admitted that he “struggles” with his faith.
These are the stories that Tebow tells about himself in his speaking engagements, the ones that the average sports fan and the greater public never hear, and these are the things that make him more accessible to the average guy, more like Batman, and not Superman.
Superman is invincible, impervious and we all know that we will never be like him. How can we? He’s not even human. But we can identify with Batman. Batman is compelling because of his weaknesses, foibles, his self-doubt, and his struggle to determine in complex circumstances what is actually right and what is actually wrong. He has no superpowers, but is instead driven by his losses and not his victories. Sound familiar?
This is the “angle” that a lot of men want, perhaps even need, to identify with Tebow. Because as it stands, the man that the media portray Tebow to be is “Superman”, a guy without flaws, a guy who wins when he loses, a guy who is a cross between Johnny Cash and Mother Teresa. It makes great smack talk because it's funny, but also because it's intimidating.
No matter what the rest of us do, we’ll never be that good, and we know it. It is because of this two-dimensionality that critics have a legitimate argument with the coverageTebow is afforded.
Kristofer Green, on the Bleacher Report, puts it best:
“We are reminded that he is better than all of us.”
“We are reminded that he is Superman.”
“And the balance shifts ever closer to animosity.”
“The media has driven us to it.”

Jeff Perlman, responding to Murphy’s SI piece, most clearly states his disconnect and disbelief of Tebow:
Mostly, while reading the piece I kept asking myself, “Who the hell would take life advice from Tim Tebow?” I’m sure he’s a friendly kid. But he’s a sheltered 21-year old whose life has been lathered in football and religion.

It should be unsurprising that the audience most receptive to Tebow’s evangelism are in fact prisoners and children. Despite being 21, and even possibly sheltered, which is debatable, there is no doubt that Tebow could easily be doing other things than visiting men which society has condemned, or sick kids in the hospital.
Tebow has been photographed with some of the most beautiful women you’d hope to meet. He not only attends concerts, but sings on stage with his favorite singers. He’s invited to Nascar events by drivers and plays private rounds of golf with pros who want to meet him. And he hob knobs with the President and celebrities on the red carpet that we’ll never meet.
When that 21 year old guy shows up and says “I’ve come to see you today because I care about you” to a death row inmate, “and I’d like to tell you about a God that cares about you,” I have no doubt why a great many of them listen to him. When that 21 year old guy comes by to see your dying child, and says the same thing to you, you are probably thankful for it.
The real crux behind the Tebow coverage is that it is the easy story to write. It is easy to imagine that it is more rewarding, and even simpler, to cover Tebow than the latest athlete scandal. “Tebow just gets better!” is an effortless headline now, and it generates revenue. As newspapers and media outlets compete for web traffic, ad clicks, and a growing need to sell more papers, Tebow delivers on and off the field.
The real travesty is that it not only diminishes a truly great sports story, but also diminishes what we agree with Tebow is the “greatest story every told.” By branding Tebow to be “perfect” the media robs of us a compelling figure to actually admire, foibles and all. It also diminishes the impact Tebow has as a public figure and the message he wants to relate. There was only one guy that was ever perfect, and it wasn’t Tebow.
Let Tebow be Tebow, faults and all.

Practice Makes Perfect

Basically Perfect in Every Way

Superman or Batman?

Or even Mary Poppins?