August 30, 2016 is an important date in the annals of sports prospecting: it marks the NFL’s second-to-the-last cutdown day, and now it marks the potentially comedic attempt of Tim Tebow to play professional baseball.
A majority of Major League teams will be on hand when Tebow – the former superstar college quarterback who never quite made it in the NFL – steps into the batter’s box. And they should be there.
Tebow is 29 and far-removed from being a dominant high school baseball player. But he is big, strong, fast, athletic, smart and determined. All scouts are obliged to search under every rock for talent, even the one who analyzed Tebow’s looping swing by saying to ESPN, “If it was any longer, it would take out the front row.” Added another scout: Tebow has “no shot.”
Ah, but why are these scouts remaining anonymous and not attaching their names and their reputations to their harsh words? Because this is Tim Tebow, celebrity enough to motivate these scouts’ employers to sign him anyway — regardless of his baseball prowess.
No self-respecting baseball club would give Tebow a spot on its big-league roster. But no self-respecting marketing department of a team would ignore the possibilities of a Tebow relationship that would allow him to try to hone his craft in the low minors while the organization reaps the PR benefits.
This Heisman Trophy winner is an inspirational and sincere person, but he is not above being paid for speaking engagements, and he is not above selling autographed baseballs, and if all of his efforts were funneled toward “the love of football” he’d be playing in the Canadian Football League. But instead, he cultivates attention (maybe for the greater good of spreading his faith-based message) and he chases this new, impossible dream.
Review the work of his critics and you find yourself bogged down in hypocrisy and maybe even jealousy. One prominent football website made fun of “baseball prospect” Tebow for riding aboard his own publicity train, for using his celebrity name to grab the spotlight. But this same website issued these criticisms in a ham-fisted way by, in the wake of Tebow’s August baseball announcement, publishing seven separate stories criticizing him in the span of 28 hours.
Now, who, exactly is using the Tebow name to grab attention? If this is a non-story why are we publishing seven stories on it between two sunrises?
“Using the system for publicity” is a tried-and-true trick in baseball. Eddie Gaedel. “Ten-Cent Beer Night.’’ The designated hitter. Gimmicks, all.
And the NFL and other big-league sports are not above this, either. The NBA once drafted Bruce Jenner (if you really want to get some publicity, heck, draft that individual again!) The NBA also drafted Lucy Harris (she never showed up for Jazz training camp because…she was pregnant). The NHL once drafted Dave Winfield (hey, he grew up in Minnesota so surely he had skated once or twice). The NBA and the NFL drafted sprinter Carl Lewis (the Cowboys were the culprit there, Lewis later saying ‘Let’s draft Carl’ was the ‘in’ thing to do.’’)
Last year, after he been cut by the Rams, the Dallas Cowboys signed openly-gay rookie Michael Sam. I can promise you that was not the idea of the Dallas personnel department; indeed, I was told it was a league-driven mandate. Sam spent a moment in Dallas, made no headway and made no waves, and the sports world survived. The sports world will also survive Tim Tebow’s exploits – unless on August 30 his looping swing really does take out the front row of scouts.