Commentary

A sheep among wolves

Tebow was silenced before speaking and then criticized for what he didn't say

Updated: February 23, 2013, 7:17 AM ET
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

Tim TebowWilliam Perlman/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireAlthough Tim Tebow is public about his faith, he's careful to avoid controversial topics.

A battle has been won, but I'm not sure by whom. 

Principles have been defended, but I know not what they are. 

Tim Tebow was first silenced by critics before he even had a chance to speak, and then later chastised by critics for being silent -- and neither group knew what the much maligned quarterback would say.  

It appears Tebow-bashing has officially jumped the proverbial shark and it has replaced freedom of expression with freedom of assumption.  

Now without question, Robert Jeffress, the lead pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas, has said some things about Judaism, Mormonism, gays and other groups that can be characterized as controversial at best, hatemongering at worst. But to this day, I have yet to hear Tebow say anything remotely close to echoing any of Jeffress' more unnerving remarks.

In fact, I haven't even heard Tebow say anything close to what Ravens center Matt Birk said last fall in a video for the Minnesota Catholic Conference. In it, Birk, in making his case in favor of discrimination, repeatedly insinuated parenting by gay couples is a threat to children -- something I'm sure is news to the NBA's Kenneth Faried, who was raised by his two mothers -- and has been scientifically proved to be untrue.  

[+] EnlargeMatt Birk
Larry French/Getty ImagesRavens center Matt Birk took a public stance last year that it's important to protect marriage for the future of his children.

None of that stopped the NFL commissioner from giving Birk, a former Walter Payton Man of the Year, a shoutout via Twitter, saying "Matt was a leader in the locker room & in his communities..." when the big guy announced his retirement on Friday. 

Birk gets somewhat of a pass for something he actually said and Tebow gets dragged across hot coals for what people think he might say.

Or, in the American Family Association's case, "should" say.

After Tebow announced he was canceling his speaking engagement, the AFA, a conservative Christian organization, took him to task for bowing to media pressure.

It even started "#tebowcaves" on Twitter because, you know, bullying is so Christlike.

"Tebow has established his street cred with the evangelical community by being unapologetic and unwavering in his faith," AFA spokesman Bryan Fisher said. "If his NFL career washes out, this street cred with the Christian community is all he has left. He is squandering that enormous reservoir of goodwill and admiration as we speak, by taking a knee rather than stepping up in the pocket."

Christian "street cred"?

What. The. Hell?

I could see if the guy went down to Dallas and repeated some of Jeffress' greatest hits like "Islam ... is a religion that promotes pedophilia" or characterized gay people as a threat to kids like Birk. But for all we know Tebow subscribes to a more inclusive interpretation of Christianity, like quarterbacks Drew Brees and Kurt Warner, and would have spent his time in Dallas promoting God's love as Tebow -- and not Jeffress -- sees it. Much in the way the Bible talks about Jesus going into unsavory places to minister.

His expression of his faith on the field has lifted Tebow's profile -- for better and for worse -- but it doesn't mean the public has an intimate understanding of his stance on various issues. In fact, he goes out of his way not to engage in controversial topics.

And because he was shouted down before he had a chance to speak, a public that hangs on/hates his every word missed a chance to find out more about him. And because he was shouted down for not speaking, we never might.

After Tebow tweeted that he was canceling the speaking engagement, First Baptist issued a statement, saying in part:

"Mr. Tebow called Dr. Jeffress Wednesday evening saying that for personal and professional reasons he needed to avoid controversy at this time, but would like to come to First Baptist Dallas to speak at a future date."

Tebow made no reference to rescheduling publicly, but we all know that there will never be a time in which Tebow visiting First Baptist won't bring controversy. Jeffress has been saying offensive remarks from the pulpit for 15 years; it's doubtful he's going to stop. But more important, it's doubtful Tebow's next move -- whatever it ends up being -- will go unnoticed. He's a prisoner of his own mythology that at times he plays up and at others is imposed upon him, like an albatross.

Or in this case, a muzzle.

LZ Granderson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine

ALSO SEE