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Building a bridge between Feminism and Football

I’m not really sure why I opened up Huffpost today.  I’ve sworn off Huffpost since it was bought by AOL (AOL? Really?  AOL is basically the online equivalent of “The Rachel” haircut–it was trendy in the 1990’s but there is a reason it died and should never come back into fashion).

Some trends come back into fashion because they're so timeless. Others are destined to remain relics of history.

Reading the Huffpost is like going through a Haunted House: every headline is a horror story waiting to happen, and they have to scream at you to get you to click.  Case in point: the headline today was in 72-point font, howling something about Obama committing political suicide.  There was no article immediately attached to this knee-jerker…you had to click on the scary font, where it took you to an article about Obama’s willingness to sign half of his job creation bill.  SO SCARY!  SO ALARMING!  RUN AND HIDE! BUT CLICK ON THE LINK FIRST!

But I digress.   What I found on Huffpost this morning was indeed scary, but it wasn’t an alleged political suicide.  It was the fact that my once humble Denver Broncos, a team that at one time  would only make national headlines if they won the Super Bowl, had made the front page of the Huffpost.  My initial “What the!” was quickly replaced by hyperbolic eye-rolling:  of course…Tim Tebow.

Tim Tebow as one man simultaneously represents everything I hate about professional football in its modern incarnation, but more importantly, the vast chasm between my feminist side and my inner football fan.  In case you forgot, this guy used his own money to pay for an anti-abortion 30-second ad spot during the 2009-10 Super Bowl.    The ad gives us a superficial look into Tebow’s autobiography:  he was born in the Phillipines while his parents were doing missionary work there, and when it was discovered that her pregnancy could become dangerous due to a tropical disease, the doctors there encouraged Tebow’s mother to get an abortion.  We know how the story ends–she didn’t, and by the grace of God he is now the closest thing that American men can get to God-status: he is a quarterback in the NFL.

I’m fully aware that professional sports provides a perfect setting for misogyny (see this study connecting sports and domestic violence)  and Christian fundamentalism (what with all the praying before games and thanking God after games, as if the latest Manning-bowl was written in stone along with “do not covet thy neighbors wife.”).  But using your status as a star college football star and the platform of the Super Bowl to fully and obviously bring all three together was something unprecedented.  The NFL at least pretends to live in a feminist age by donning pink ribbons in support of breast cancer awareness month every October.  But Mr. Tebow, your use of the NFL as a platform for your missionary work not only crosses a line between one’s career and one’s religion, but the message comes off as so gratuitously self-congratulatory, we’re left with no questions that if there is a God, and that God cares one iota about football, this guy’s self-absorption is God’s gift to NFL stardom.  Its plain and simple would-be mothers:  no matter how dangerous your pregnancy might be to you or to your child, you better risk your life and bring the baby to term.  It’s your God-given duty to bring future NFL hall-of-famers into this world.

My objections are not with his opinion on abortion per se.  While I find the majority of anti-abortion arguments to be quaint, Victorian, chauvinistic, unrealistic and downright thugish, I’m not asking Tebow to change his opinion.  I’m asking him to keep his missionary message out of the NFL, and on a selfish note, as far away from my beloved Broncos as possible.  If you want to be missionary, fine.  Go back to the Philippines, or become a preacher and take your message to the pews.  I don’t believe for one second, and if you’re honest with yourself you wouldn’t either, that God made you a great football player in order to convert football fans to Christian soldiers (wouldn’t that mean more Church on Sundays and less football?).  If God operates like that, I wonder why James Dobson wasn’t Johnny Unitas.

Most of us understand that there is a line between our jobs and our controversial political opinions.  We’re not allowed to bring our propaganda to our office, or worse, use company time and resources to preach our message.  But Tebow doesn’t respect that line, and because (as I suspect) a majority of those in charge at the NFL and CBS agree with his message and know that his embodiment of the athlete-God makes money, he was freely allowed to make breach this line.  I wonder if the Denver Broncos and their fans will be the next unsuspecting receivers of his unwanted and inappropriate proselytism.

And that is what I hate about the modern NFL.  It doesn’t function without celebrities, even though it is much more of a team-oriented sport than baseball or basketball.  Players would rather be a celebrity than an athlete–you make more money and extend the life of your career with endorsement deals, your own reality show, etc.  Every team needs someone to get the team attention, to attract jersey sales, etc.  It can be terrible for winning football games, because having over-the-top celebrities on a team is more of a distraction that an asset. But it is great for making a team money, and that is what the owners care about most at the end of the day.  And NFL fans (and here I blame fantasy football) have confused the difference between a celebrity and a true, talented athlete.  In fact, the way the NFL is now, they will probably never be one and the same again.  There was a time in the NFL when players would be “lifers”; i.e. players would dedicate the majority of their career to one team, one philosophy.  They would do this because it was a sign of loyalty, and the best way for a player to make the most of his career both in terms of his paycheck as well as his image.  Perhaps the player wouldn’t get national attention or his own reality show on VH1, but he would be a local hero, much like John Elway was for Denver for 16 fantastic years (yes, even the years when we sucked).

12 years after Elway’s retirement, Denver is still suffering from post-Elway syndrome.  But it’s not only because Elway was among the most talented quarterbacks to ever play the game, it is because we want a franchise quarterback, a dependable guy we can always expect to lead the team, to victory or otherwise.  That is why the fans are chanting, “We want Tebow, we want Tebow” even as our starter, Orton, marched the team down the field for a touchdown in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.  The fans want a talented quarterback who is also a bit of a local hero.  Orton is a quiet guy.  He gives matter-of-fact interviews after games, but generally just wants to play football.  He doesn’t want to be a celebrity.  Tebow, whether you love his politics or hate them, is personable, made-for-TV, with a great story and an impressive college football career.  He isn’t quite the same as the T.O.-types-but the effect is the same: “pay attention to me, because I have a brand, ahem, I mean, a message to sell.”  But I have news for Denver fans:  there will NEVER be another Elway.  There is no such thing as franchise quarterbacks anymore.  Even if you get your wish and Tebow is allowed to start, he won’t be around forever.  Finances in the front office will change, priorities will change, and he’ll be traded.  Even the beloved almost-lifer Brett Favre was traded by the only team in the NFL that is actually OWNED by the fans.

I’m not a football strategist, but I like the Orton-type of player much more than the Tebow-type.  And I assume that if John Fox isn’t playing Tebow, there is a very good reason.  But fans don’t care because fans want celebrity, they want excitement, they want a little controversy.  I like my players humble, grateful, hard-working and quiet but strong.  I’m not convinced that Tebow will be an all-star, because Heissmann is considered to be a pretty good predictor of future NFL failure.  But it isn’t really about his talent.  Even if we don’t win another Super Bowl in my lifetime, I’d rather the Broncos be a humble, nose-to-the-grindstone, upstanding team that cares more about the sport than about selling an image, a brand, or a message.

Like all celebrities, fashion is everything. Tebow's image consultant told him he looks best in orange blue.

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