The Endless Digressions of Chuck Klosterman on Tim Tebow

So today our illustrious editor-in-chief, Dave, sent me what was, in retrospect, the inevitable Chuck Klosterman article about Tim Tebow, and asked for my comment. Now, I understand if you’re sick of hearing about Tim Tebow, Lord knows I am (sorry, couldn’t help myself), but I read the article anyway because I like Chuck Klosterman, and though I don’t always agree with him, he usually says something interesting. “The People Who Hate Tim Tebow,” however, was not interesting, it was in fact pretty stupid, a classic example of Klosterman willfully ignoring reality in order to make a clever point.   That being the case, what follows is me picking apart a professional writer who could write circles around me.   Be forewarned though, as Klosterman says at the top of his article: “If you’ve lost interest in thinking about Tim Tebow, don’t read the rest of this article. It will only make you crazy. “

Klosterman starts “The People Who Hate Tim Tebow” by recounting the cognitive dissonance experienced by anyone who’s watched Tebow lead the Broncos to win a game they should by all evidence lose. He then spends the next four paragraphs describing a situation where 784 people in a 1,000-person town think a man named Timothy killed someone despite none of them having any evidence. Klosterman then asks if it would be reasonable for the police to continue to investigate Timothy.  This is then followed by a section break and a single line pointing out that 78.4% of Americans consider themselves Christians.

Klosterman’s overlong allegory is, I guess, an endorsement of agnosticism. And a classic example of the worst impulses of both Grantland and Chuck Klosterman.  What does the allegory have to do with professional football?  What does it have to do with the ultra-devout Tebow? Why was the murder suspect named Timothy? Where was the editor to ask these questions?  At any rate, they will remain unanswered because Klosterman never returns to tie this back into the article about Tim Tebow that follows.

Klosterman lays out the situation thusly: “On one pole, you have people who hate him because he’s too much of an in-your-face good person…at the other pole, you have people who love him because he succeeds at his job while being uniquely unskilled at its traditional requirements.”

Right out of the gate it’s clear that Klosterman has fundamentally misunderstood why people don’t like Tebow.  Who would dislike someone for being a “good person”?  People dislike Tebow because of his supporters, not because of the man himself.  They dislike him because the Tebow boosters insisted that he wasn’t being played because he was a good guy or because he was Christian, and they spouted on about his “intangibles.”  Meanwhile, the doubters saw people who are paid vast sums of money to evaluate football talent and win football games decide that Tim Tebow wasn’t even as good a quarterback as Brady Quinn…Brady freakin’ Quinn. So far the Tebow boosters look right, this does not, however, make them any more likable.

“Equally bizarre” Klosterman says, “is the way both groups perceive themselves as the oppressed minority who are fighting against dominant public opinion, although I suppose that has become the way most Americans go through life.”  So it’s bizarre.  And also completely normal.  Got it.

Klosterman then launches onto a new digression.

[H]ere’s a more complex scenario: If you were living in Greece during the sixth century, and there was no way to deduce what the true shape of the earth was, and there was no way to validate or contradict the preexisting, relatively universal belief that the world was shaped like a flat disc … wouldn’t disagreeing with that theory be less reasonable than accepting it? And if so, wouldn’t that mean the only sixth-century people who were ultimately correct about world geography were unreasonable and insane?

This is supposed to be thought-provoking. but it’s actually just wrong.  One of the first things that tipped people off to the fact that the world was round was that ships sailing over the horizon disappeared slowly as they rounded the curve of the earth.   The thing about Greeceis that it’s, you know, on the Mediterranean Sea.  A 6th-century Greek had a pretty good chance of seeing a ship sail over the horizon. The Greeks had sailed to Turkey and North Africa by the 6th century AD, and the last time I was there you couldn’t seeTurkey fromAthens.   Klosterman’s fetishisation of the counterintuitive gets in the way of basic facts, and we’re left with this digression that is essentially pointless, except to prove that there are no fact checkers working at Grantland.

After that little detour, Klosterman gets back around to Tebow.

“When someone suggested that he mentions God too frequently (and that this repetition is what annoys his critics), Tebow said, ‘If you’re married, and you have a wife, and you really love your wife, is it good enough to only tell your wife that you love her on the day you get married? Or should you tell her every single day when you wake up and have the opportunity? That’s how I feel about my relationship with Jesus Christ.’ This is probably the smartest retort I’ve ever heard an athlete give to a theological question. What possible follow-up could the reporter have asked that would not have seemed anti-wife?”

Wasn’t there an entire South Park episode about how creepy the whole “I love Jesus like I love a woman” thing is?

What could have been asked that wasn’t anti-wife? How about “So you want to make love to Jesus?” “So you want to impregnate Jesus, to have him bear your children?”    “Jesus is like my wife” isn’t smart, it’s strange and a little sad.

Klosterman says, “this…is what makes Tebow so maddening to those who hate him: He refuses to say anything that would validate the suspicion that he’s fake (or naïve or self-righteous or dumb).”   This too is totally false.  Tim Tebow starred in a commercial run by the anti-gay, anti-choice group Focus on the Family. The commercial’s fundamental message was “Ignore the advice of your doctors, because my mom did, even though she could have died, and I grew up to be a great college football player.”  This hits the hat trick: it’s naïve, self-righteous, and dumb, not to mention dangerous to those who take it to heart. This is why people dislike Tebow. He believes these things, but because he’s super Jesus-y he gets a pass as a “good person” even though all the things he says and does are not unequivocally good, there’s a lot of grey here that doesn’t get explored. I mean Chuck Fucking Klosterman of all people just ignores it and says Tebow is unequivocally good.

Then Klosterman presents the “Reality of Tebow” (Comments in Italics are mine.)

1. Tebow is a good person who loves God.  (True)
2. Tebow throws many incompletions and makes curious, unorthodox decisions. (Also, true.)
3. The Broncos’ defense keeps every game tight. (Mostly true, except for the Detroit game and the Minnesota game that Klosterman opens the piece with.)  Underrated RB Willis McGahee eats the clock.
4. The Broncos inevitably win in the closing minutes. (Again, true  except for the Detroit game, where they got spanked.)
5. Tebow humbly thanks God for this achievement (and for all achievements), thereby crediting God for what just happened (and for what happens to everyone on earth). (If by “humbly” Klosterman means ostentatiously kneeling in prayer where he knows network cameras will catch him doing it.  Seriously, I’ve watched him kneel in prayer on the sideline while his kicker wins the game, then walk out onto the field to be in clearer view and then re-kneeling to pray again. And that’s fine, he can pray whereever, whenever he wants.  But let’s not pretend it’s humble.)
6. Tebow connects God to life. (True)
7. Tebow is a good person who loves God. (True)

Next we get two more digressions from Klosterman, one about presidential elections and another about “What if Tebow were a mashup of Mike Vick, Ben Rothlisberger, and Plaxico Buress?”  Answer: people would call him “tough” and he would play forOakland. This is Klosterman’s way of getting around to saying that no one likes to call super-good people “tough.” Klosterman then begins to talk about John Elway, who is by all accounts a good guy, universally beloved by Broncos fans, and regarded as one of the toughest QBs to ever play the game. Not that Klosterman mentions any of that; instead he says Elway is envious of how quickly Broncos fans took to Tebow.   As a non-Bronco fan who lives inDenver, it seems to me that what Elway wants is a more traditional QB without a long, windmill windup who can be trusted to throw more than 15 times a game.  But to examine that idea you’d have to actually write about the game of football in your article about a football player.

That’s a little unfair because in his second to last paragraph Klosterman does analyze Tebow’s game a bit, calling him “a bulldozer,” pointing out that he can’t really throw, and calling him “hard to tackle” (this isn’t really that different from calling him a “bulldozer”). So, basically, Tim Tebow would be a good running back, but to Klosterman none of this is very relevant to people’s feelings about one of the NFL’s highest profile quarterbacks.  In the end Klosterman circles back to a faith versus reason framework (though not to presidential elections, or small town murder mysteries) saying that reasonable people, people who use statistics, don’t like Tebow, despite the fact that how he plays, the thing measured by statistics, doesn’t “have a big impact on why people feel so passionately about this person.” So there you have it, a big, self-contradictory mess, full of pointless digressions and purporting to analyze why people have strong feelings about a football player without talking very much about football at all.

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