Commentary

Tim Tebow joins criticized QB fraternity

Plenty of black quarterbacks have faced same questions as Broncos' youngster

Updated: September 9, 2011, 9:54 AM ET
By Roy S. Johnson | Special to ESPN.com

Tim Tebow ought to go out and get a big ole tattoo. And have his ear pierced while he's at it. (Better yet, some other much more intriguing body part.)

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesTim Tebow isn't the first quarterback to be accused of running too much.

Heck, he might as well do something a few NFL owners (or at least one) seem to believe is associated with some fan-unfriendly aspect of black culture. Because the way he's been talked about in recent weeks, you'd think the Denver Broncos' third-string (or 2.5-string) quarterback was black.

"He can't play. He can't throw. … What [former Broncos coach] Josh McDaniels saw in him God only knows. Maybe God does know -- because the rest of us don't." -- Former NFL QB and current radio host Boomer Esiason

And that's just a dab of the criticism/hate-ism spiraled at Tebow throughout this labor-truncated NFL offseason. (You should see what my editors took out.)

Was any single player more debated, dissected and derided as all the prognosticators assessed the goings-on leading us to Week 1 of 2011?

The only ones who come close are black: Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam (the tattoo-less) Newton and Oakland Raiders QB Terrelle (no priors) Pryor -- both of whom are rookies and thus expectedly subject to the kind of annual pre-draft what-they-can't-do scrutiny typically reserved for the privacy of your doctor's office.

You might add to the list Michael Vick, whose biggest "SportsCenter" offseason move was signing a $100 million (but not really) contract extension that prompted many to debate whether the resurrected and rehabilitated Philadelphia Eagles quarterback deserved to be the highest-paid QB in the world not named Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.

Vick's new deal coincided with a firestorm of a story in ESPN The Magazine that carried the headline: "What if Michael Vick were white?" (The piece was accompanied by a brilliant, if somewhat pale, photo illustration portraying what Vick might look like as a white man. As I said, brilliant.)

Well, what if Tebow were black?

Now before you get all fired up and start rolling your eyes over yet another story tainting our precious sports landscape with "race" droppings, relax: It's all in fun.

[+] EnlargeTroy Smith
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesAfter four seasons of minimal play in the NFL, Troy Smith is without a team.

Tebow, the Broncos' 2010 No. 1 draft pick (25th overall), just may be the most popular human in at least two states (Colorado and Florida).

And for good reason: He's probably the second-best college football player in history (behind Herschel Walker) or maybe third (Lord, I wish there was film of Jim Thorpe).

At the University of Florida he: (A) stayed four years; (B) generated 9,286 passing yards, 2,947 rushing yards and 145 touchdowns; (C) played on two national champion teams; and (D) won the Heisman as a sophomore.

He's also the guy your momma wishes you were: a devout, God-fearing young man who does missionary work in foreign orphanages, for goodness' sake.

If he were black, he might have been … Tiger Woods. But, uh, never mind.

Tebow's leadership talents and personal integrity are unchallenged.

His football skills?

Now that's what riles people up -- especially those folks who say he's already an NFL bust. Ryan Leaf with a halo.

Or maybe Troy Smith, Jason Campbell, Vince Young and Josh Freeman -- black QBs whose skills at times have been diminished because they didn't fit the mold of an elite NFL QB, an image that has been handed down and cherished since Johnny Unitas first struck the passing pose by which all subsequent quarterbacks are still measured.

Each of the four aforementioned quarterbacks have, to varying degrees, responded to their critics.

At 6-foot, Smith, the 2006 Heisman winner and 2007 fifth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens, simply wasn't NFL "big." Yet he had a respectable four NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. Last season with the Niners, he started six games, even defeating fellow Heisman winner and rookie sensation Sam Bradford in an OT win over the St. Louis Rams.

Like Tebow, Campbell was the 25th overall pick in the draft (2005) and was largely said to lack the arm or the pedigree (his alma mater, Auburn, is no QB factory) to succeed at the get-paid (more) level. Yet he's started 64 games for Washington and Oakland, and will start for the Raiders on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman
J. Meric/Getty ImagesNobody doubts Josh Freeman now.

Young, for all the lows of recent seasons, hit the league like a lightning bolt -- despite those who scoffed at his awkward delivery and propensity to escape from the pocket like it was on fire when he still had time to throw. He was the Offensive Rookie of the Year and became a two-time Pro Bowler for the Tennessee Titans before his career spiraled downward due to problems on the field, and off.

Freeman? Please? Just about any team other than New England or Philadelphia would take the rising young third-year Tampa Bay Buccaneers signal-caller who slipped to No. 17 in the 2009 draft despite a 124.73 passing rating at Kansas State.

This isn't the Alphas, Kappas or any of the other proud black national fraternities, but Tebow is unquestionably a member of this frat. He's just still being hazed.

Now, some of his critics have a slight point. Tebow is a football freak, a 6-foot-3-inch, 245-pound force of nature who doesn't fit the textbook description of the QB position but scores touchdowns and wins football games anyway.

He defies every convention and bowls over every coaching rule of thumb as if it were a teeny defensive back.

He runs first and throws with uncertainty.

He's a leg-QB, not an arm -- at least not an NFL-accurate one. Yet.

Each of those shortcomings has been levied as criticism for some black quarterback in recent seasons. Now, it's brother Tebow's turn.

He was reasonably productive in the three games he started last season (199 yards rushing, 651 yards passing, seven TDs), but it was not enough to persuade naysayers that he could succeed in the NFL. Moreover, Tebow did not perform well during training camp for the only people who truly matter -- first-year Broncos head coach John Fox and his staff. It went so poorly, in fact, that Tebow not only failed to beat out the very ordinary Kyle Orton, but also was outplayed (in the eyes of many observers) by the less-than-ordinary Brady Quinn.

The Broncos haven't officially named the popular Tebow their third-string quarterback, but they have indicated they will use him sporadically in a "Wild Horse" offense designed to maximize his strengths (running) and minimize his weaknesses (well, just about everything else).

I believe Tebow, in time, will indeed overcome his shortcomings and become a solid, capable NFL quarterback.

He has been a leader at every level.

And he has won at level.

Black or not, those attributes count more than any words -- as many of his brothers have shown.

Roy S. Johnson is a veteran sports journalist and media consultant. His blog is Ballers, Gamers and Scoundrels.

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Roy S. Johnson

Contributing writer, ESPN.com