Friday, December 16, 2011

What December 16th Means To Me: Tim Tebow And How He Helps Us Define America

If you were to turn on ESPN right now, commentators are probably talking about Tim Tebow.  If you log on to the New York Times opinon section, you can probably find an article about Tim Tebow.  Sports Illustrated?  Oh, look who is on the cover this week...Tim Tebow.  Talk radio?  They are probably discussing Tim Tebow.  Even the Global Language Monitor (whatever that is) now officially recognizes the phenomenon of "Tebowing" as an actual word.  For 2,000+ years this was known as kneeling to pray, now its been named after the polarizing Denver Broncos quarterback who is in the midst of a historic run. 

Needless to say, Tim Tebow has completely dominated the national conversation, has completely overshadowed other historic football stories (like Green Bay's run for an undefeated season), and actually has transcended sports in general. The question is why.  Is it because Tim Tebow is THAT interesting, or is it a sign of the times? 

By all measures, Tim Tebow seems like a nice guy.  He constantly says the right thing, visits sick kids in hospitals, is overwhelmingly positive, and is secure in his faith.  But there's nothing about him that is inherently annoying or all that interesting, in fact his personality borders on bland.  He never really says anything inflammatory, and his off the field actions, if anything, are admirable.  People point to his Christianity as a lightning rod, but praise for God is certainly nothing new to football, and there are probably more vocal Christians actually playing in the NFL. Certainly, part of the reason for Tebow's "popularity" is due to his recent play.  His repeated last minute comebacks, defying all probability, have caused wonder among both analysts and fans, but the Tebow conversation and argument about his place in both the NFL and American society started long before that.

As I've said many, many times on this blog, we live in a much different world than we did 10 years ago.  Because of the rapid rise of the internet and cable television, we now officially live in a 24/7 media world, a world where we all can easily dispense our opinions and voice, and choose to do so in the name of noteriety (look no further than YouTube).  Our access to one another has shrunk the world to the point where we believe we all can manipulate the conversation and be "important," and because we have multiple ways of gathering information (TV, blogs, social media sites, constantly updated news sources), we consistently consume it, providing us more facts and opinions to help us solidify our own beliefs.  And its this solidification that causes us to form a defined opinion that is often not malleable. At some point in this process the opinion becomes validated by the multitude of likeminded people.  Essentially, we shout our beliefs into a kind of an echo chamber, and they get amplified to the point where, in an effort to be heard (whether subconscious or not), we calcify them until they are as hard as granite.  Then, we continue to dispense this opinion in an effort to stay relevant in society, even if its on a miniscule level. 

And since humans often care more about being "right" than having an actual conversation, and also because social media doesn't really allow for natural conversation, we immediately define ourselves to the community through our opinions.   And because of this, there's a natural divide where the public generally falls into two camps and becomes so dedicated to their belief that they can no longer see outside of it.  Look no further than our political discourse.  The two sides cannot agree on ANYTHING to the point where it's laughable.  We don't just view people with opposite opinions as "wrong," we see them as absurd.  And the more we say it and see others sharing our opinons, the more it becomes truth in our minds. 

And that's exactly what happened with Tim Tebow.  Granted, he's not some random guy we've all decided to argue about.  He's probably the most decorated college football player of all time, but the controversial thing about him is his playing style, not his religious beliefs.  During the draft process in 2010, NFL commentators and fans alike either thought one of two things:  Tim Tebow could be a successful quarterback in the NFL despite his unorthodox playing style, or he'd crash and burn.  And over time, this conversation became so amplified that we're still having it despite that fact that we now actually have results to go by.  Since then, others have tied his social beliefs into the argument, which were then followed by stereotypes (racial and otherwise) and everything Chuck Klosterman has to say in this article.  And yes, Tebow has made some "believers" out of his detractors, but these guys usually dispense their new found faith with a caveat.  ESPN commentators Stephen A. Smith and Merrill Hoge said, time after time, that Tim would have no success in the NFL because of his lack of skill, but now say that they were wrong, not because they underestimated his physical skill, but that they never considered the emotional aspect of his play in regards to the rest of his teammates.  Essentially, they are saying they are wrong because they never considered an "unpredictable" quality to his play that is totally beyond comprehension.  In other words, they are saying "nobody could have predicted this."  It's their way of absolving themselves from perceived fault.  So, really, you're not admitting you're wrong because to do so would be admitting you are a flawed human since, in regards to the national conversation, you've defined yourself by your opinion.  Think I'm wrong?  Ask any knowledgable fan about Merrill Hoge, and right now, their first reaction is probably "oh, he's that guy who thinks Tebow sucks, right?"

And that's what American society has become.  A bunch of people who cannot think objectively.  Judging ourselves by our opinions has become our way of standing out and defining us as humans.  Once we make decisions on our point of view, we'd rather stick to that than ever admit we were wrong because that would challenge both our inner strength and sense of self.  And thats why Tim Tebow has become such a prominent figure in our national conversation.  Not because he's an interesting guy, but he's a guy that caused all of us to form a finite opinion, and then beat that opinion into the ground.  Whenever there is a chance for deep factionalism in this country, that's the kind of story that will take off because people will triple down on their beliefs in the name of being dominant and right.  And because of modern society, we have easy access to dispense our opinion to the community.

God (or Tim Tebow) help us all. 

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