Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pain is Weakness leaving the Body

That's the sign in the Gators' weight room, according to the new GQ article on Tebow by Jason Fagone (and click through to see the slide show).

It's a new kind of love fest, this article. Nothing particularly new or revealing, but it shows how strong Tebow's future marketability is. He seems to transcend barriers of all kinds. When did you last read something like this in GQ?

"When you die," Tebow booms, "there's gonna be a tombstone, and on that tombstone there's gonna be a name, and there's gonna be a date. And for me, it's going to be 1987, and then it's gonna have a dash.… I want that dash to mean something. I want that dash to be special. I want that dash to represent that Tim Tebow finished strong." He pauses, scans the crowd, sucks in a calming breath, and the wild screams and cries nearly drown out his next line: "And most importantly, when I get to heaven, I want Jesus to say, well done, my good and faithful servant."

Reading the article one begins to wonder what Tebow will do after the game. Will he move into politics? become an evangelist on the order of Billy Graham? or will he move into quiet obscurity living and laboring in the Philippines? It is no small praise to be compared to Clooney, Obama, and Oprah by one of America's opinion makers.

"He is professionally unflappable and proud of it ... He has that ability of many highly successful people—George Clooney, Obama, Oprah—to flash a sideways grin so crisp and face-transforming it's basically a weapon."

Being a champion opens doors and gives you a platform, but how many champions do we revile, and not admire? How many have a message that we are willing to buy into? How many spur debate both on how the game is played, but also in how life is lived between games? Tebow is a once in a generation phenom, because when do you expect to see coverage like this in GQ again?

I ask him what it feels like to preach. "Great," he says, sawing his waffle into triangular chunks. "It's special. When I do it, I feel like I can do it with so much passion and enjoyment and boldness, because I know how much it's changed my life and gave me peace and passion and purpose for life."

I don't get the sense that he's trying to stay on-message. It's more like the message is all there is. Not in a shallow PR sense, but in a deep and radical sense of Tebow taking this role-model thing perfectly literally. "Obviously, your goal as a speaker is to be larger-than-life to your audience," he tells me, perking up when we start talking about the theory behind his rhetoric—the theory of influence being his main intellectual passion, aside from the strategic aspects of football. "You know? That's your goal. So they're into you. Okay, listening."

And GQ discovers what we all know in Gainesville, is that the guy you meet on the street, or in a restaurant, somehow manages to exceed your expectations of him.

"I ran into Tebow one time, out on the sidewalk. He was with all his friends, and I asked him if I could take a picture with him. But my batteries died. I said I had some batteries in my truck, can you wait here? He said, Yeah, no problem. I came back ten minutes later. He was sitting here, by himself, waiting for me to take a picture. Any other person would have just left with their friends.… Then he offered me his number so when I got it developed he could autograph it. That's Tim Tebow."

Finally, Fagone points to what alot of us are waiting to see, how "special" will Tebow be after college:

A word that Tebow uses a lot is special. It's special to preach. It's special to give a small gift to an orphan, or to win a state championship. God's plan for each of His children is special. Everything that's good is special, apart; everything that's special is good and justifiable and worth fighting for.

The NFL has been unkind to players who enter the league proclaiming their specialness. But this is perhaps Tebow's greatest gift, his most relevant evangelical skill. He has a record of influencing not just his teammates but whole systems; he convinces people that he is, always and forever, a special case. He was a special case as a 15-year-old, when he was allowed to handpick the team he wanted to play for while being homeschooled by Pam; now there are "Tim Tebow laws" under consideration in the legislatures of at least three states, spelling out the rights of homeschoolers to play sports. And now he's asking the NFL to consider him, again, a special case—a player who won't succumb to the same pressures or limitations as similar players who failed before him.

This season, and the seasons to come, we are all witnesses indeed.

Bookmark and Share