Tim Tebow hysteria shows no signs of stopping. The highly-religious Denver quarterback recently adorned the covers of both Sports Illustrated and the inaugural issue of NFL magazine -- no small deal to legends of football.
The blogosphere can't seem to get enough of him. Sports analysts, fans and even non-football aficionados seem curious, if not obsessed. He is described as "phenomenal," "mind-blowing," "incomprehensible" and "unbelievable," all in one caption. What do these strong love, hate and love-to-hate Tebow feelings say about the American cultural psyche?
In fact, the debate these days is not much about Tebow's football skills. Sports experts mostly agree that in spite of being a Heisman Trophy winner, a first round draft pick and even a world-class athlete, his throwing mechanics limit his long-term QB potential. Nor are analysts still bothering to dissect his "miraculous" fourth quarter comebacks. No, it's not about his football or even his faith at this point. Instead, the focus is on why so many people actually care about it all. In essence, the story is no longer really about Tebow, but rather about the story itself.
As a psychoanalyst -- and avid football fan -- I view this cultural phenomenon from a particular perspective. Just as I listen for the significance and deeper meaning behind what patients talk about in my office, so do I when it comes to Tebow-talk.
What I have come to realize is that those who believe it's all about Tebow's religious fervor are being simplistic. Religion and sports have been enmeshed for decades, with ball fields serving as arenas for proselytizing by many other prominent athletes -- from Reggie White to Kurt Warner to Josh Hamilton -- all who used their "God-given" fame as a platform to spread the gospel. This particular player polarization goes deeper and wider. Likewise, it isn't only a pro-Christian movement that fuels his support. No, I think these reactions are related to qualities unique to Tebow's personality beyond his religion. It's his general outlook on life and the questions it raises about our own that has generated "Tebowmania."
You see, Tebow has an air of genuine naiveté unlike other celebrated sports figures, including those with religious interests. On and off the field, he seems to be totally unaware that as a famous person, he is constantly being observed, emulated and judged. But watch him we do. We see him smile with uninhibited glee. He celebrates his teammates' successes and offers solace and consolation when they mess up. He has this, "oh-jeez-golly" attitude that has us believing -- from the moment he runs on to the field until the last minutes of each and every game -- that we should share in his joy, hope and optimism about life.
And this, I'm convinced, is the cause of the Tebow drama. So many of us -- Christian or not -- want to believe he's the real deal, representing all that is good with human nature and the world around us. Much like the legendary horse Seabiscuit served to lift a nation during the Great Depression, so Tebow lovers look toward him to help them during these challenging times. They root for his ability to produce miracles during the fourth quarter -- and find his religiosity just part of it all. To question his attitude is to question their own.
Then there are the cynics -- or realists, as they probably call themselves. They feel it's their moral duty to bring Tebow down to earth where the rest of us live -- dragging with him all others naïve enough to believe in the powers above where he points after scoring his touchdowns. These skeptics remember the fall from grace by the likes of Tiger Woods and Brett Favre and wonder: when will this one fall too? How can Tebow be that naïve? Is he truly unaware of the power and influence he wields as an American idol? And, if he isn't, is he a fool? Is he some huge joke? Is the joke on us?
This is about our own ambivalent feelings. We are a nation divided by optimism and cynicism, fractured by intense feelings of hope and despair. While many still believe the recession will turn around, unemployment will drop and global warming will be halted, others view these same events through a much bleaker lens. As Tebow plays and prays, he embodies our ambivalence, should we continue to have faith or not -- in ourselves, in others, in our future.
When Tebow gets into his now-famous pose, he does it as if no one is watching. He goes to one knee, closes his eyes and has what he might tell us is a private moment with God. It's his naive innocence that sets him apart from White, Warner, Hamilton and others who seem equally devout. At that moment Tebow appears to believe, openly, genuinely, that life is wonderful and that all will be okay.
And that is what the frenzy is about. The "Tebowing" pose is anything but private. America is watching, experiencing ourselves through him and clearly struggling to figure out what to believe.
Share what you think and feel as you watch Tim Tebow play or read about him in the media.
Vivian Diller, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in New York City. She has written articles on beauty, aging, media, models and dancers. She serves as a consultant to companies promoting health, beauty and cosmetic products. Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change (2010), written with Jill Muir-Sukenick, Ph.D. and edited by Michele Willens, is a psychological guide to help women deal with the emotions brought on by their changing appearances.
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