When I received a SportsCenter alert on my iPhone Monday saying that the New England Patriots had signed human brillo pad Tim Tebow, I sat around and thought for a second: About all of the time over the next two months prior to the NFL pre-season beginning that will now be be wasted and of all the articles I'll have to write about that time -- I've even pre-written a "SportsCenter leads with Tebow over Game 7 of Stanley Cup Final" article. Stop laughing, that is not a joke.
I took a breath, then, and I decided to be an adult about it and just that this is happening. These are the facts: whether you like it or not, because of his college success and the controversy created by any number of non-football based factors, more people know the name Tim Tebow than those that can name their state's senators. Tebow moves the needle for sports networks, because they fueled the fire for this. It's become cyclical.
ESPN cares about Tim Tebow, so you watch and complain about how much ESPN cares about Tim Tebow ... but you're still watching. So ESPN and various other shows get a ratings boost that shows the networks how much people care about Tebow. Therefore, they give you more Tebow.
Got it? Okay. ESPN certainly does. I give you this tweet from the man who knows that company as much as any outsider, James Andrew Miller:
ESPN later had Bill Simmons on to talk about -- in the midst of the Bruins being in the Stanley Cup Final and the Red Sox in first place in the AL East -- what the Tebow signing meant to Boston sports fans. I'm sure that angered people even more. The last thing we need to assign the ever-evolving Tebow story is more "meaning." But again, I'm really trying to just accept that some of this stuff is going to happen for the reasons I assigned above.
With that said, let's lay out some ground rules, some safe words and some red flag topics. If ESPN (and hell, Fox Sports 1 when it debuts in August, along with NBC's daily Pro Football Talk) uses any of these, they'll deserve the derision. They can discuss Tebow on the Patriots 'til they're blue in the face, but they must do it the right way. Here are some things that aren't going to fly.
1. No discussions of whether or not Tebow can challenge or replace Tom Brady. And I mean not ever with this talking point. No "maybe they're grooming Tebow for when Brady retires" or "maybe they're bringing in Tebow to make Brady sweat a little." No one is threatening Tom Brady. He will almost certainly be the starting quarterback of the New England Patriots until he retires. This is not up for debate. Don't even suggest it.
2. When the preseason comes around, just report. I don't have any interest in whether or not Tebow was able to complete more than 50 percent of his passes against a second- or third-string defense. It doesn't mean anything. If Tebow is playing quarterback during the preseason, he's doing it to have a chance to back-up Brady. Don't look at it as Tebow finally coming into his own as a QB. Just tell us how he did, how the Patriots did and how the other team did.
3. Don't cover it ahead of legitimately more important stories. Don't make me use that Tebow/Stanley Cup article. You had your fun on the day it happened. Now, any and all Tebow news should follow the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup Final, major tennis and golf tournaments and any important MLB games that happen during the day. Even if it's just for a few minutes, until he actually does something with a football, keep him until at least the B-block and at best the second half of the show.
4. Finally, just cancel First Take right now. Since I started working a general sports media beat, I've noticed some things about ESPN: they have some pretty okay debate shows. The voices of PTI are not really my thing, but I understand where they come from every day and am never all that outraged. There's some charm to Dan Le Betard's show (which is co-hosted with the sportswriter's father). Around the Horn is a surprisingly tolerable -- if inanely still scored -- debate show without some of its more controversial panelists. It all depends on who's on that day, but the show has become more reasoned and less smarmy and screamy.
I have no such words of encouragement for First Take, however. It is the closest ESPN gets to Fox News and MSNBC. Every single day, Skip Bayless takes his contempt-filled, jock-envy-infused attitude for almost every single athlete with any modicum of success and lays a giant dump on them -- his attitude towards LeBron James is on a level with pundits who were "just wondering" why Barack Obama wouldn't produce a birth certificate. The show adds nothing to ESPN and provides nothing of any value for society in general.
Of course Bayless (and to a lesser extent, sparring partner Stephen A. Smith, who is somehow now "the tolerable one" when he's on TV) knows that keeping the Tebow story alive will keep his ratings up so he continues to push the idea that Tim Tebow is "a winner" who just needs a chance. That is the talking point that keeps getting him retweeted by that annoying friend you have who trolls you constantly about the one time Tebow got lucky and won a playoff game.
I know it's wrong to advocate for the silencing of opinions, but Bayless writes for ESPN.com. Let him continue to write there. This story is an excellent excuse to drop sports TV's version of Crossfire. It will only make our lives worse if you let Bayless and the people behind him continue to log extensive time on your networks.
I think we've established some rules that both sides can live with. Think of these not as rules, but as limitations meant to lead to more creative ways of covering sports. I will not be feigning outrage about anything you do regarding Tebow, or Tebow's relationship to Belichick, or Tebow's relationship to Brady, but I will be changing the channel ... and advising others to do the same.