After a day of mania in Alabama at SEC Media Day -- it was one of the most frenzied, crazy days of Tim Tebow's college career -- there was plenty to talk about, but one meme emerged as the most controversial: Clay Travis asking Tebow if he was a virgin. Some thought it was out of bounds. Some thought it was classless. Some thought it was funny.
After sitting on a north Florida beach for an hour -- no knee-jerk analysis? what a rarity! -- I think I had some perspective on it. I posted it at the Tebow blog, but I thought it was worth republishing here for the DS.com audience. (FWIW, it's probably what I would have written here, had there been no Tebow blog.)
Tim Tebow's virginity matters.
On its face, whether Tebow has been some sort of Greek god of studliness or saving himself for marriage seems like a ludicrous issue to be talking about at a football conference, even in the SEC.
But Tebow has always been about more than football -- necessarily been about more than football.
Tebow's career -- on and off the field -- has been about mythology. Not in the "Clash of the Titans" fictional way, but about myth-making. So as not to confuse people, I try to use the word "mythic," because it means "as if a myth...," the implication being "...but very much real."
The Tebow myth -- "mythic Tebow" -- is based on an ever-increasing number of mythic moments:
Football-related: The first "Jump-Pass"... the 5-TD game on national TV against South Carolina en route to "20/20" en route to becoming the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman... the 4th quarter against Alabama in the 2008 SEC title game... the clip of him "firing up" the College GameDay crew... the unsportsmanlike-conduct "Gator Chomp" against Oklahoma... the "Who didn't vote for Tebow" thing... and, of course, "The Promise" speech.
Off the field: The "miracle birth" story... the ESPN TV documentary as a high school senior... the ministering to prisoners... the medical procedures abroad, including the circumcisions... the singing with country-music stars... the eye-black, especially the John 3:16 moment during the national-title game that became the No. 1 most-searched term on Google (and helped convince him to return to Florida)... the "I'm Coming Back" speech... even this week's Sports Illustrated cover.
Everyone agrees Tebow is a great football player, maybe the greatest. Everyone agrees Tebow is a remarkable human being, even verging on the Messianic in tone. The point is that the Tebow myth is only truly created -- or fulfilled -- when these two things converge.
Tebow is unafraid to discuss his spirituality -- his religious beliefs and values -- in public. In fact, he relishes it, because it is precisely that "testimony" -- subtle and otherwise -- that allows him to live out what he feels is his mission. (But, to be clear, for all the outward displays of religious discussion, he is not someone who generally forces it on people -- just trust me on that.)
It is Tebow's clarity of living -- god, family, school/community, football...in that order -- that appears to provide him with the seemingly superhuman ability to at once be relentless on the football field (or even in the weight room or film room or practice sessions) and supremely confident off the football field, whether flying to the Phillippines to work with orphans or driving to the local prison to minister to convicts or handle the media like few in sports have ever handled the media (especially, as Forde pointed out today, for a college student).
Mythic Tebow puts his religious values first, and if that is how he finds success in life, more power to him. We should all be so fortunate to have something -- religion, secular humanism, family, fan allegiance, I-don't-care-what -- that provides a framework for a life well-lived, however you might define that.
It is those religious values that fuel his football success, that are on display in the cover story of Sports Illustrated this week -- and that made Clay Travis' extremely personal question to Tebow of whether or not he was a virgin something relevant.
In fact, his answer shouldn't have surprised anyone. It is entirely consistent with his core values and -- in line with supporting "mythic Tebow" -- the rest of the episodes, events and moments that have come to define him publicly.
When the rest of us get finished tittering (and Twittering) about the virgin question, what is left is -- as usual -- profound (or perhaps begrudging) respect, which couldn't be a more rare commodity among sports fans, let alone for a star as prominent (even over-exposed) as Tebow.
I think Tebow will ultimately feel glad for having been able to share that piece of personal information -- he certainly didn't seem particularly thrown by the question when it was asked. But I can see him understanding that there are evangelical Christians out there who will find their strength in his values. Those who don't share those values? Live and let live.
When it first happened, I -- as a would-be expert in Tebow mythology -- was quick to put it at the top of the list of mythic Tebow moments. It doesn't have anything to do with football, but that it came up at a football conference... those two things intertwined seem to make sense to me, given the on-field/off-field duality of Tebow's mythic mix.
Talking about his virginity doesn't faze Tebow. And it shouldn't faze the rest of us. We should all have the kind of equanimity that comes with the clarity of living Tebow enjoys.