The NCAA is an excellent caricaturish example of the old Ronald Reagan joke about the nine most terrifying words in the English language. ("I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.") While Spencer Hall has already sufficiently excoriated the new NCAA rule aimed at taunting, there is another stupid rule that has floated just below the blogospheric consciousness that is, perhaps not equal in its stupidity, but pretty darn stupid in its own right. It is called the "Tebow" rule and, no, it's not aimed at squelching something actually offensive - like over the top hero worship. But something more like this ...
My god. Isn't that grotesque?
Some call these the little messages written on eye black, which are to be prohibited by a new NCAA rule, "eye tweets," which is a delightful new media term. Four years ago, I would have thought an "eye tweet" was synonymous with "eye booger."
ESPN's Rick Reilly lets us know what absurd motivation is behind this absurd rule:
You have to feel for the Jewish kid or the atheist kid or the Muslim kid who loves Tebow but didn't realize his fanship would involve a pitch to convert to Christianity.
Oh, good point.
Wait ... no it's not! To believe that, you'd have to believe that the NCAA has a responsibility to insulate the general public from the opinions of the amateur athletes whose sports the NCAA governs - these amateur athletes being, by the way, private citizens. And I should feel sorry for a fan that finds out something about Tim Tebow that is obviously a huge part of his life? What Reilly is really offended by is that Tebow is an evangelical Christian who thinks people need to be converted. Reilly even hints at this being some sort of First Amendment problem because Tim Tebow attends a public university. Is he a lunatic? By his logic I - the recipient of federally subsidized student loans - should not be able to express my opinions about, well, anything because on account of receiving a benefit from the government I pay taxes to, I am, thereby, an agent of that government.
[T]he NCAA should stop eye-black messaging next year. Yes, players are people with strong beliefs and yes, they're going to want to use their fame to promote those feelings. But these people do not have millions of fans because they're deeply religious. They have them because they can throw a football through the eye of a needle.
He is clearly not talking about Tim Tebow anymore. Tebow's notoriety is equally a result of his superior athletic skills (a set, which does not, by the way, include throwing) as his personal life story, built around his religious convictions. If anything, Tebow is the example which proves that this logic is faulty.
What if the next quarterback wants his eye-black to say, "Love Satan" or "God Is Dead"? or "I (Heart) Beer"? Is the NCAA going to allow it? No chance.
The NCAA is never going to get that chance because that kid's coach will make him run gassers until next April, if he pulls such a stunt. Perhaps just as intimidating, he will be castigated in the blogosphere. Reilly is using a hypothetical that will never happen to advance his belief in an inequality - namely, that football players with unpopular opinions are unable to espouse them with the efficacy of Tim Tebow. Well, welcome to real life, Rick, the rest of us have been waiting on you. People with popular opinions have a natural expressive advantage over those with unpopular opinions, by definition. This is not some cosmic injustice that we need to work on, and it certainly is not a detriment to the game of football. And the truth is that if Tim Tebow had put some more progressive controversial message under his eyes ("Trade with Cuba," "Reparations Now," or "Global Warming") he would have been praised as a courageous young man with convictions, and this rule would have been called the product of "crusty old intolerant white men."
Some would argue that we should keep religion or politics out of the sport - similar to the arguments made about Tebow's Super Bowl Ad. Isn't it pretty dang patronizing to tell athletes that we enjoy watching their physical exploits, but we'd appreciate it very much if they just check their opinions at the door? Tim Tebow considers football to be part of his Christian outreach to the world. What's really unfair is to deny people like him the expressive ability they consider part and parcel of their motivation for playing the game. To people who say that significant messages stenciled into eye black are just a needless distraction, Tim Tebow would respond that 90 million people Googled "John 3:16" after the 2008 National Championship Game.
My argument would, likely, be more credible if I could tell you that I was a pinko liberal atheist hating what Tebow writes but defending his right to write it. But I'm not. I'm a pro-life, evangelical Christian, who thinks Tim Tebow is awesome, even if some in the mainstream media go over the top with it. But my natural biases should pale in comparison to the glaring reality that the NCAA can't stop making rules that have nothing to do with the game. Messages on eye black have absolutely no impact on the game being played. They do not provide competitive advantage. Honestly, I did not realize that Tebow was the pioneer of athletic face expression that he, apparently, is, until the NCAA courageously decided to prohibit his obscene displays.
The messages written beneath Tim Tebow's eyes are a part of his personal life. Media has always peered into the personal lives of the athletes that are covered. Making rules that tell athletes that they are prohibited from injecting certain aspects their personal lives into the coverage of their sport is not only unnecessary, it's unfair.