It’s beginning to feel like the media is conducting a Trading Places experiment with Tim Tebow and Cam Newton playing the roles of Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. Just a few years ago Tim Tebow was on top of the world, coming off of two national titles in three seasons with a Heisman Trophy tucked firmly in his back pocket. Tebow was praised as much for his otherworldly intangibles as he was for his play on the field. Many in the media had him pegged as not only the best player in the country but arguably the greatest player in the history of college football. He was heralded as the second coming of…the actual Second Coming. Cam Newton on the other hand was revealing himself to be a bit of a problem child.While Tebow was passing for touchdowns all over the field, the biggest throw Cam Newton made as a Florida Gator may have been tossing a stolen laptop from his dorm window when police came to put him in handcuffs. He was arrested then suspended from the team indefinitely. Later, facing expulsion for multiple academic cheating violations, Cam announced he was transferring from Florida just days before Tebow led the Gators to another national title. Newton was forced to pick up the pieces in junior college purgatory to rehabilitate his career.
Now fast forward to 2011, a bizarro world where Cam Newton, the overall number one pick, is treated like the golden boy of the NFL while Tim Tebow is the most polarizing player in the sport. Newton, is coming off of a Heisman Trophy win of his own and two consecutive undefeated championship seasons. He has put up Tecmo Bowl numbers as the star rookie quarterback for the Carolina Panthers while going toe to toe with some of the NFL’s best defenses. Meanwhile, the media has recast Tim Tebow in Newton’s old role of troubled quarterback swirling in controversy.
Tebow’s off the field issues are media related but they seem no less crippling than the drama that derailed Cam Newton’s University of Florida career. After being selected 25th overall by the Denver Broncos, Tebow has faced withering criticism from the media. Some scoffed at the thought of drafting him at all, let alone as a late first round pick. They’ve depicted Tebow as a player who has no business on the field and may not even deserve to be in the league. All the while the media has been hitching themselves to the Cam Newton bandwagon, giggling at his million dollar smile, and gawking at his intangibles.
Tebow’s stunning role reversal harkens back to the Black quarterbacks the media characterized as nothing more than athletic specimens who didn’t have what it took to play under center on Sundays. We last saw this when Michael Vick was released from prison. Lost in the revisionist history hysteria of Vick’s MVP caliber resurgence last season, was the fact many in the media said he deserved no more than a look at a cornerback or a punt returner position prior to his release. These are the same media experts now calling for Tim Tebow to suit up as a fullback or a tight end. Amazingly, the media has somehow managed to ‘otherize’ Tim Tebow even while he continues to carry himself as the wholesome Wheaties Box athlete they wish all athletes would aspire to be.
In rationalizing this phenomenon, the media speculates Tebow faces harsh criticism because he wears his Christianity on his sleeve. This notion is laughable because there is no such precedent for a Christian athlete backlash in this country. America has never turned on an athlete sporting a halo over their head, at least not until their fall from grace. Tebow gets treated harshly because he plays like a Billy Ray Valentine, using his legs and raw athleticism to escape the pocket and drive down the field. Tim Tebow plays so Black if you blink too fast you might miss a commentator calling him very articulate and well spoken. On the other hand, Cam Newton has carved up NFL defenses standing tall in the pocket like a Louis Winthorpe III.
Tebow has now been handed the reins as starting quarterback in Denver and a chance to silence his media critics. Considering the colored lens through which they view him, maybe it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to the media the Broncos drafted Tim Tebow to play quarterback in the first place. After all, in 1968 Denver was the first franchise in history to start a Black quarterback, Marlin Briscoe. The next season he was moved to wide receiver.
Only time will tell if Tebow will suffer Marlin Briscoe’s fate or whether Cam can continue his brilliant play. In Trading Places Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd both got the last laugh on the puppet masters who were manipulating their lives for personal amusement. After everything Cam Newton and Tim Tebow have been through, that may be the happiest ending of all.
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