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Tim Tebow should stick with his heart, not his head

Martin Fennelly: His sanctimonious rant against college athletes being paid is out of line
Tim Tebow answers a question during an interview on the set of ESPN's SEC Network in Charlotte, N.C. [Associated Press]
Published Sep. 19

TAMPA — Tim Tebow is making headlines again. And getting killed again.

I think Tebow is one of the two or three greatest players in college football history. As famous (and probably as rich) as the 2007 Heisman winner has become, Tebow still seeks out human scale. I love him for that and always will, no matter how polarizing he is.

Example: My best friend’s son suffered a serious spinal cord injury around this time last year. Tebow’s foundation reached out. My friend and his son were flown to Knoxville to spend time with Tebow before last season’s Alabama-Tennessee game. And spend time with Tebow they did, Tebow listening to my friend’s boy, encouraging him. It was very real. And always will be.

It’s hard to square that with the NCAA shill that Tebow became the other day when, while speaking on ESPN’s First Take, he went Joe College on all of us and came out against California’s Fair Pay to Play Act, approved by the California State Senate last week, which would allow college athletes to broker deals when it comes to use of their names, likenesses and images.

“If I could support my team, support my college, support my university, that’s what it’s all about,” Tebow said. “But now we’re changing it from ‘us’, from being an (alumnus) where I care, which makes college sports special, to then, ‘Okay, it’s not about us, it’s not about ‘we.’ It’s just about me.’ ”

Tebow haters, who are legion, massed quickly. True, there were a lot of rational people who joined them, railing against Tebow’s Candyland ideas about the world of college sports. I can’t stomach St. Timothy talking about how paying athletes will make money the focus.

What? College sports are about money?

I’m shocked, shocked, to learn that gambling is going on in here.

Understand, Tebow could have made a fortune in college if the rules had been different when he starred in college, from even a slice of his No. 15 Gators jersey sales. It was a cottage industry, the University of Tebow at Gainesville.

Tebow marketed his brand with the way he played and the life he led.

It has paid off just the same.

I was fine with that. I respect that. But don’t get yours and then chastise others. I also respect anyone who sees the hypocrisy of college sports, schools riding the backs of players to the bank. The stark contrast demands correction. There are auto workers picketing Michigan for a better deal. College athletes don’t get to do that. Tebow’s be-true-to-your-school talk, sincere as it is, does not help.

I know, athletes are also students. They are paid in education. If they find no value in it, they have themselves to blame.

But universities devalue education every time they pay a coach 30 times more than they pay a professor, or with academic scandal filled with classes never taken or grades fixed.

Want to value education? Start paying Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney in degrees rather than those millions.

I don’t think, as Tebow does, that paying athletes would hurt college sports, any more than all the cheating and sexual assaults that riddle college programs.

Would athletes being paid shift the balance of power to the bigger, more monied schools? Take a look at the college football playoffs, also known as the Clemson-Alabama Invitational. It’s already imbalanced.

Shame on Tebow for not recognizing that not all his teammates weren’t raised like him, in generally prosperous surroundings, and that being paid is a way to support themselves and their families. Everyone’s story is different.

Tebow shouldn’t be preaching about the sanctity of college sports while ignoring the mountain of money that is apparently only for the rich and powerful.

My daughter is a college rower. Hey, I checked. She actually rows, oars and everything. She is not one of those kids whose rich moms and dads fixed up phony sports resumés so their children could attend certain schools. Well, those parents had their wagons fixed. I hear there are not even going to be Pilates in the slammer.

Me? I pay for my daughter’s rowing because it makes her happy, even if it’s an underfunded club sport at a school where the football head coach is losing at a furious rate. Her choice. My choice. I’m fine with that.

Tim Tebow had the right to choose. He also has the right to work for free at ESPN, which he most certainly does not. Fellow ESPN employee Jay Bilas, a lawyer by trade, made a good point.

“That Tim Tebow wished to turn down compensation doesn’t mean all should be required to do,” Bilas tweeted. “He is free to play for free. All athletes should have the same economic right as LITERALLY everyone else. That’s real choice.”

I feel badly for Tebow. Our society of Instant React requires you to have a hot take when you’re asked a question on TV. Tebow answered honestly. It’s how he felt. He should stick to seeking out human scale. That is Tebow at his most. This was him at his least.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly

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