Are Tim Tebow & Jeremy Lin Famous Because They’re Not Black?

Who even thinks up horsecrap like this? Oh yeah, liberals…

Midway through a discussion about the world of sports at the Connecticut Forum in Hartford last week, Rebecca Lobo, the former University of Connecticut basketball star, posed an intriguing question. Could anyone recall a black athlete who had come off the bench like Tim Tebow or out of the blue like Jeremy Lin, flared to immediate stardom and received the sort of impassioned outpouring of love that has enveloped Tebow and Lin?

The root of the question was that Tebow and Lin have received attention from the sports news media that seemed out of proportion to the time and duration of their successes.

Between the Tebow phenomenon in the fall and the recent Lin explosion, I had been asking myself a variation of Lobo’s question: When was the last time a young, untested professional African-American athlete had been on the receiving end of this type of adulation? Specifically, adulation that had more to do with positive, universal characteristics – faith, humility, selflessness – than with athletic acumen.

The intensity and suddenness of Lin and Tebow’s acceptance has led to a flotilla of half-baked ideas about sports and religion and ill-conceived, even insulting notions about race and ethnicity.

Examples involving African-American athletes were difficult to come by, especially adhering to the criterion of athletes who had come from out of the blue, because very few athletes do these days.

Victor Cruz’s name came up as an example of a black athlete (Cruz is of African-American and Puerto Rican heritage) whose sudden professional success and acceptance were parallel to that of Tebow and Lin. Cruz, the young Giants receiver, is certainly a fairy-tale story.

….But unlike Tebow and Lin, Cruz was never deified, never used as a symbol of all that was good and holy. He was simply pumped up as an explosive player who was also a polished end-zone dancer.

A colleague reminded me about Billy Ray Bates – nicknamed Black Superman – who played for the Portland Trail Blazers in the early 1980s. After being cut by the Houston Rockets, Bates, a product of the Mississippi cotton fields and Kentucky State University, played for the Maine Lumberjacks in the Continental Basketball Association. He signed a 10-day contract with the Trail Blazers in February 1980 and began electrifying fans with dunks.

He scored 40 points in 32 minutes in one game and 35 points in 25 minutes in another. He averaged 25 points a game that postseason, then 28.3 points the next postseason.

Then Bates’s life went south. He was cut after his third season in Portland, did short stints with Washington and the Los Angeles Lakers and was out of the N.B.A. for good before starring for several years in the Philippines.

In 1998, Bates was convicted of first-degree aggravated assault and second-degree assault and sentenced to prison for a knifepoint robbery at a New Jersey gas station. With good reason, Bates was never heralded as a pillar of virtue.

Cam Newton, on the other hand, was not widely embraced but should be despite the accusations that his father shopped him to colleges. After Newton dominated college football, winning a national championship and the Heisman Trophy, critics said he was “an athlete-first” quarterback who would not be able to dominate in the N.F.L. But Newton did dominate the N.F.L. in his first season – and always with a smile.

This may come as a shock to liberals, who see racism everywhere, constantly hear “dog whistles” that don’t exist, and see everything that doesn’t involve other liberals in explicitly racial terms, but most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about race — well, unless liberals bring it up.

As to whether Tebow and Lin were bigger stories because they weren’t black….ehr, well, maybe a tiny bit.

Why?

Because we live in a perpetually oversaturated media environment. There’s TV, radio, blogs, newspapers, fan pages — everything in sports, entertainment, and politics is overexamined, overexposed, and beaten into the ground. So, while talent is a prerequisite to getting anywhere, the real trick is standing out from the noise. How do you make people notice you in that environment?

In Tebow’s case, he’s a great story, but he really stood out for his bold Christianity. Christians love Tim Tebow not just because he’s a winner, but because he’s a Christian. A star black quarterback who adopted “Tebowing” first could have been just as big a story — but, none of them did. In Lin’s case, race may play a bit more of a role, but again, it’s not the core of the story. Yes, he stands out a bit because he’s Asian in a game dominated by black men, but like Tebow, he’s an incredible story and perhaps more importantly, an incredible story in NEW YORK. If everything were the same about Lin, but he were playing for the New Orleans Hornets, would he be as big of a sensation? I really, really doubt it.

Additionally, and perhaps ironically given the race obsession of the author, he missed the single most obvious parallel to the Tebow and Lin stories.

“Could anyone recall a black athlete who had come off the bench like Tim Tebow or out of the blue like Jeremy Lin, flared to immediate stardom and received the sort of impassioned outpouring of love that has enveloped Tebow and Lin?”

Sure.

Ever heard of a guy named Tiger Woods? Sure, Tiger Woods was a great golfer right off the bat, but a big part of the reason he became such a household name was because he was a black guy who was a power player in a sport dominated by white guys. It made him stand out.

Are we supposed to get upset because Jeremy Lin or Tim Tebow may have gotten some tiny extra scintilla more attention than a rich black point guard or quarterback or that Tiger Woods would have made a few million less if he were a white guy? At the end of the day, what difference does it make?

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