ESPN's Rick Reilly on why he believes in Tim Tebow
A few weeks ago, I stumbled on a commentary about Tim Tebow by ESPN's Rick Reilly. Now, I don't care for football, and I don't care for extreme media hype over an athlete, either. But Reilly's commentary on Tebow is worth a read, even for you non-sports fans. Afterward, I was wondering why I found myself, like Reilly, feeding the Tebow frenzy. But upon talking with Reilly about the piece, I realized it's not about Tebow or the hype. It's about something much more humbling and pleasantly unexpected.
I'm not the first person you'd expect to be drawn to this subject. You see, I'm a 22-year-old girl who grew up taking ballet. I like hiking, I like choir, I enjoy doing my homework alone in a coffee shop. Admittedly, I love watching The Kardashians. Beer isn't really my thing, bar food makes me sick, and football usually puts me to sleep. And, oh god, football jargon. Blitz, line of scrimmage, rushing, safety: What does all that even mean? Okay, I enjoy watching an occasional football game at Conor O'Neill's -- but only because I've always wanted to visit Ireland.
So I had some work to do before speaking to Reilly. At one point while sitting at my desk, trying to frantically educate myself about football statistics, I even found myself on a web page called "Mom's Guide to Sports-Football-Learn the Lingo!"
Fortunately, Reilly called a few minutes late for the interview. Phew!
Westword: So there's obviously a lot of positive (and negative) hype surrounding Tim Tebow. As a journalist, maybe you feed off of that hype, but does it ever get exhausting?
Rick Reilly: I guess that's probably what fed into the skepticism with Tebow. Everybody is talking about this guy, I'm going to go the other way and prove that all this hype is just hype. And I looked and I couldn't find any holes, and then I added to the legend because, really, he deserves it.
WW: In the beginning of your column...you wrote, "I've come to believe in Tim Tebow." You're clearly skeptical of Tebow as an athlete on the field. What made you want to dig a little deeper into Tebow's character off of the football field?
RR: I guess I've been doing this for so long that you always find holes. I can remember Steve Garvey [nicknamed "Mr. Clean"], from the L.A. Dodgers. He was an all-American guy with a square chin. Always 'yes, sir, no, sir.' And then he was engaged to four different women at once. I've just learned there's always another side you're not seeing. So I hired a flip reader to see if he [Tebow] was swearing, and he wasn't. I interviewed him plenty and he was always polite -- there was nothing you could rattle him with. And I thought, 'This guy really can't be that sincere' -- I know because during Monday Night Football games, players are on their headphones, in their own world. But this guy was in a meeting with these kids. I thought, 'It can't be. What is it? Just a quick picture with him and then you get sent to the game?' But their stories made me realize, nope, there's no holes with this kid. He's real. I was thinking, 'Shit, that's what I'd like to be. I so rarely am.' I realized this kid is something I aspire to be, and that's when I realized I believed in him.
WW: You have the "love the column, hate the column" at the end of your post. How did people respond?
RR: I guess it was probably top five in my thirty years. I don't know exactly how the digital thing works, but I think it had 150,000 shares on Facebook and over two million reads. It's pretty incredible. And I purposely didn't use 'God,' 'Jesus,' 'faith,' 'Lord,' 'Savior,' any of that. I wanted to show people, yeah, he'll talk about that, but that isn't what it's about. He doesn't browbeat them [people like Bailey Knaub and Zac Taylor, mentioned in Reilly's column] with Jesus. He's asking them what kinds of TV shows they like. What I love most is how there's a parallel between his comebacks and these people making comebacks. And I'm not a religious person, so for him to convince me, that's pretty good. As an athlete, I'm totally still skeptical.... He's got miles to go. But he's there as an altruistic guy who's beyond thinking about himself. That's about as high on the tree as you get.
WW: It seems like many of your columns go beyond just the statistical profiles of athletes. Why do you chose story angles like Tebow off of the football field?
RR: I think what people care about are the athletes as people. I write about people who happen to do sports. The thing that makes it so popular -- why I love it -- is that sports is so woven into our lives. Like, you love golf because you play it every Saturday with your Dad. You love the Red Wings because your Grandpa loves the Red Wings and it's the only thing you can talk to him about. It's sports as it relates to our lives, our sorrows, life and death, laughter. I really don't like writing columns where we find out what a player hits after he ate at a Mexican restaurant. So the human aspect is what I write really. And also, it's not an area a lot of people do so there's more room there.
More from our Sports archives: "Tim Tebow: Ten things non-sports fans should know about The Chosen One."