One is a Jesus-obsessed former college football star who couldn’t cut it in the pros. Now he’s switching to baseball, a sport he hasn’t played since high school and wasn’t very good at to begin with…
The other is a pro-wrestling superstar in his late 30s who’s sick of people telling him his sport is “fake.” Now he’s going off script and stepping out of the ring and into the octagon to fight in the UFC!
It sounds like the plot of a terrible 90s buddy comedy, but those are actually two of the biggest stories in sports right now, whether or not they deserve to be. Tim Tebow, the Heisman-winning Florida Gators quarterback, is taking a shot at baseball after he finally came to terms with the fact that his NFL career is over. And CM Punk, once one of the biggest stars in the WWE, made his much anticipated UFC debut on Saturday night. It went about as well as I expect Tebow’s baseball career to…
You may be old enough to remember the great Bo Jackson, an NFL Pro-Bowler and MLB All-Star who serves as the gold standard of dual-sport athletes. If you’re REALLY old, you may remember Jim Thorpe, who won two Olympic gold medals in track and field, and played pro football, baseball and basketball. I’m assuming the practice schedules were a little more flexible in those days…
Two problems here: The times have changed, and to be a successful pro athlete in this era, you have to be completely devoted to one sport from childhood until retirement. Also, Tim Tebow and CM Punk are not Bo Jackson and Jim Thorpe. Jackson and Thorpe didn’t fail at their primary sport, then try to arrogantly jump back into a sport they were mediocre at in high school. Jackson and Thorpe didn’t get a chance to go pro in a sport they had never tried because they were famous entertainers who played pro athletes on TV. At the end of the day, this is just one big publicity stunt. Well, two big publicity stunts, but you get the idea…
For as much credit as he gets for being a clean-cut, good ol’ Christian boy, Tim Tebow loves being the center of attention. For most of his adult life, he was a constant topic in sports media headlines. At Florida, Tebow was one of the most dominant players in the history of college football, winning a Heisman trophy and two National Championships. After stepping into a starting role his rookie year in the NFL, Tebow showed flashes of greatness (or at least goodness), and threw a game-winning touchdown pass in a playoff game, giving the loyal alliance of Tebow fans a lazy argument for why he should still be a starting NFL quarterback. But his somewhat encouraging rookie year was littered with red flags, none more glaring than his awful 50% completion percentage (which was followed up by an even more atrocious 46.5% in his second season with Denver).
After being traded by the Broncos, benched by the Jets, refusing offers to change positions or sign with a CFL team (because he takes too much pride in being a shitty NFL quarterback), Tim Tebow returned to his college roots by joining the SEC Network as an analyst. Four years removed from an NFL roster, and beginning to accept the fact that he sucks at football (He won a playoff game! And Rex Grossman went to a Super Bowl. Give it up Tebow fans), Tebow was upset that he was’t getting any undeserved attention, so he decided to arrange a publicity stunt and announce his intention to play major league baseball. So not only is Tebow’s arrogance level so high that he scoffs at playing in the CFL, or switching positions in the NFL, it’s so high that he thinks he can go pro in a sport that he hasn’t played in over ten years. The force is strong with this one.
Tebow insists this is not a publicity stunt and he is “all about baseball.” Of course any team that signs him would need to allow him to continue his broadcasting job on the side, and he’s already selling autographed bats on his website for $175 a pop, but those are just things that you do when you’re a minor league baseball player fighting for a shot in the bigs. Like he said, “all about baseball.”
In an attempt to boost ticket sales at Columbia Fireflies, or Brooklyn Cyclones games, and sell a few thousand “Tebow” jerseys during a spring training stint that will likely make Michael Jordan look like Ken Griffey Jr, the Mets have signed Tim Tebow to a minor league contract. Of course, the Mets official reason for signing Tebow was an “opportunity to associate with excellence.” They went to the World Series last year, but that’s nothing compared to signing a washed up college football star.
I know, this isn’t really a big deal. We shouldn’t get too excited, or too angry about it. Tim Tebow will look lousy in the minors, bat under .200, and hit one big home run that all his fans will overreact to. He’s a winner! He’ll get his name back in the press, where he likes it, and when the Mets decide it’s time to stop parading this failed football player around as a real baseball player, Tebow will say something like, “It was a humbling experience. I gave it my all and I have no regrets. I just want to thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ for giving me this great opportunity,” and it’ll all be over… But I can’t help but be a little irked when I see the updated version of Tim Tebow’s wikipedia page:
Is he though? Is he?
While Tebow’s publicity stunt is disingenuous both on his and the Mets behalf, CM Punk’s publicity stunt is really only disingenuous on the UFC’s behalf. You may think it’s a bit odd that I’m referring to him as CM Punk and not his real name, which apparently is Phil Brooks. Well the UFC didn’t bill him as Phil Brooks, his real name, as they have every other fighter in UFC history, they billed him as CM Punk. After the UFC decided to sign a 37-year old WWE wrestler with virtually no martial arts experience to the most prestigious mixed martial arts promotion in the world, one would think they would start using his real name instead of billing him in his wrestling character nickname. But Dana White and the UFC have often embraced the publicity stunt aspect of their sport, which is why Dan Henderson is fighting for a championship at age 63 after losing his last 21 fights (note to self: fact check those numbers).
Despite the UFC treating this like a total sideshow, CM Punk went about his business the right way, unlike Tim Tebow. Punk did a few initial press conferences, “Yeah, I know people are going to think it’s a joke, but I’m taking this shit seriously, and I’m gonna put in the work.” Something like that, I’m paraphrasing… Then he went away for about two years, stayed fairly quiet, went out of character, took the shit seriously and put in the work, linking up with veteran trainer Duke Roufus who has led many UFC stars to victory. He did the necessary promotions leading up the fight, did a few TV specials, but for the most part, he stopped being a pro wrestler, and did everything in his power to become a pro fighter.
He walked away from making millions for pretending to fight other pretend fighters, to take on the challenge of actually fighting the best fighters in the world. For that alone, he deserves a lot of respect. Sure, he got his ass kicked and submitted in the first round without landing a single strike, so it may not have showed up in his performance, but he took the shit seriously! After his loss to Mickey Gall on Saturday, hopefully he learned he seriously shouldn’t be doing this shit.
Basically, Punk’s fight showed us exactly how Tim Tebow’s baseball career will go. In both Tebow and Punk’s case, they are being handed an opportunity to do something they have no business doing based solely on their fame. The difference is, Punk was inspired to challenge himself, Tebow was inspired to get his name in the headlines again. Where Tebow is only risking a few minor league strikeouts and spring training errors, Punk risked getting brutally beaten by a professional ass-kicker. So if I had to pick a winner of this publicity-stunt-off, I’d go with the guy who just got his ass kicked, CM Punk. But Tebow was once actually great at an actual sport, so he has that… I’m not saying wrestling isn’t a sport… but it is scripted television…
Either way, Jim Thorpe and Bo Jackson are probably rolling in their graves… Well Jim Thorpe is rolling in his grave. Bo Jackson is alive and well. He’s probably rolling in a deer hunting blind in Alabama. Or maybe Thorpe and Jackson are smiling down from heaven, knowing they are still the greatest multi-sport athletes who ever lived… Again, Bo Jackson is NOT dead, it just makes for a more dramatic ending.
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