The Last True Meritocracy

Earlier today, Timothy Richard Tebow was released by the Philadelphia Eagles. His fourth professional team since 2011.  He was out of football entirely in 2014.  It doesn’t matter how good of a person he is, the jury is out, he can’t play professional football.  Football remains a meritocracy.

Tim Tebow continues to get opportunities in professional football because of our need to see the good guy win.  We don’t want to see the Lone Ranger die or Rudy get pancake blocked into oblivion.  We want the Christian boy who doesn’t have all the skills, but is gritty, and seems to win through divine intervention rather than having that roster spot go to an uninteresting someone who fails to appeal to our desires and deserves it.  In today’s society we would much rather indulge our consciences and sign the good guy instead of the guy who can help your team win a violent and bloody game.  This is where the NFL is right, and we are all wrong.

Why have we, over the last twenty years ignored Charles Barkley’s famous Nike commercial, “I am not a role model” and endorsed the professional athlete as a role model for each other and future generations?

Is it because we love seeing them fail? Are we masochists who enjoy the suffering of those knocked off a pedestal we put them on?  Or is it less vengeful than that?

Could it be that we live an era without heroes?  The Greatest Generation is dying, and the heroes of childhood have been exposed as flawed men.  Bill Cosby has shed his family friendly image for one of a sexual deviant.  Hulk Hogan, once a symbol of everything America should be, has a disgustingly racist rant he cannot escape.  People are flawed, and it has never been more apparent.

We root for Tebow as a “good guy” in a league that we perceive desperately needs them, despite crime among NFL players being lower than crime among the general population.  We see him as the panacea to the Richie Incognito’s.  The Ray Rice’s. The Mike Vick’s.  Owner’s don’t pay for good guys, they pay for winners.

The dark truth of the NFL is if Ray Rice had averaged better than 3.1 yards per carry in his last season he’d be in the league right now.  Richie Incognito is back in the league following a “bullying” scandal with the Dolphins because he’s an outstanding guard. Mike Vick has found multiple homes following a dog fighting scandal that landed him in prison because he was still a phenomenal athlete who could contribute to a team.  If he can play, the bad guy wins.

The truth is we weep for Tebow, and you curse Incognito. We have that luxury. We have the luxury of not knowing what the owners know. That Tebow’s release, while tragic, probably won games. And Incognito’s existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, wins games. We don’t want the truth because deep down in places we don’t talk about at draft parties, we want Incognito on that line, we need Incognito on that line.

Look for heroes elsewhere.  Like the SEC Network.  You’ll see him in a suit.