The Jacksonville Jaguars have decided to sign former Heisman Trophy winner and first round draft pick Tim Tebow to play Tight End for a minimum contract. According to some NFL pundits, next to O.J. Simpson murdering his ex-wife and her friend Ron Goldman, this is the greatest crime in sports history. The serial rape trials of Kellen Winslow Jr and Darren Sharper combined did not receive as much negative media attention as the Tebow signing. I guess the signing of a God-fearing man who has a foundation fighting human-trafficking is the work of the devil.
Stephen A. Smith, of ESPN, on his show First Take, called Tebow’s signing “an example of white privilege”. His colleague Shannon Sharpe piggie-backed on the unearned privilege charge when he said, “think about how arrogant a person must be to play a professional sport in which you’re really not that good at, and… say, ‘I might not be good enough to play this sport, but I’m great enough to go play another professional sport, even if I haven’t picked up a bat in 12 years’.”
Were the same comments about unearned privilege made when Michael Jordan signed with Chicago White Sox? Tebow was a better baseball player than Michael Jordan, and the numbers bear that out (AA Statline – .273/.399/.734 vs. .202/.289/.556). To be fair, there was a media backlash to the Michael Jordan baseball signing at the time. The argument against both Jordan and Tebow signing to play minor-league-baseball was that they were taking the spot of a player more deserving. I had a conversation with a Major League Baseball owner once, who told me that out of the 250+ players in each team's minor-league system, there is only between 10 to 20 legitimate Major League Baseball prospects. The other 200+ players are merely fillers, used to help develop the prospects. They are all very good baseball players, but not MLB caliber players. This is why there is a push to reduce the number of minor league teams. So, neither player was taking the spot of a legitimate MLB prospect.
So, why were Tebow and Jordan signed to play minor-league baseball? It is obvious. Every minor-league-baseball team loses money. They don’t have the TV revenue, the gate receipts or the merchandise sales to make the team profitable. So, if you can sign a big-time sports name like Jordan or Tebow, your gate receipts will go up dramatically. Many of the journalists who criticized the Jordan signing were part of the media circus that followed him around the entire summer of 1994, thus proving the point of the benefits of the signing that they criticized. Tebow did the same thing for the Mets organization, maybe not to the same extent, but no doubt that gate receipts increased for his teams in the seasons he played baseball.
Which brings me to the Tebow signing with the Jaguars. Contrary to other people who have already commented on the football worthiness of his signing, I cannot say whether Tebow will be a legitimate Tight End or not. I was not at his workout. I did not see him run or catch or block on the sled. So, I am not in position to pass a definitive judgment at this point. If I were to venture a guess, I would say that it’s highly unlikely that he’ll ever play in a regular season NFL game as a Tight End, mainly because of his age, 34 years old, and because he has not played football in over 6 years.
But like his and Jordan’s signing to minor-league baseball contracts, Tebow’s signing with the Jaguars will increase the team’s revenues by increasing their pre-season gate receipts, jersey sales, and bring more fans out to their training camp to buy concessions and merchandise. Anything owners can do to generate more revenue, they will do. NFL owners recently traded one pre-season game for one regular season game which shows the lack of revenue pre-season games typically produce. Jacksonville is the team that chooses take a 9-hour flight to play one or two of their regular season home games in London each year because that produces more revenue than if they played the games in their home stadium. On Friday, the top five selling items at NFLShop.com were all Tebow’s No. 85 Jaguars jerseys. Tebow is the only NFL player to have had a best-selling jersey — for at least one day — in five different uniforms. So, giving Tebow a spot that usually goes to “camp legs”, a training camp filler, a player who takes reps off of veteran players, is not a bad decision.
But isn’t Kaepernick better than Tebow? Isn’t it unfair that he is not signed? After Kaepernick started kneeling, NFL revenue from ticket sales, TV viewership, and merchandise sales, all declined by 15%. What about the purity of the game? If Kaepernick is really a better player, shouldn’t he be signed regardless of what it would do to the revenue? Yes and no. If teams actually believed Kaepernick would help them win games, then he would be signed. But if he’s just a back-up holding a clipboard, while driving down revenue by 15%, he won’t be signed. Considering that the NFL salary cap is directly tied to revenue, Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling reduced everyone’s paycheck, owner and player alike, by 15%.
A few years ago, I commented to a couple friends about the sorry state of American media. I told them that the media’s job should be to “tell the truth, and protect our democracy.” Both of my friends, who are very successful businessman, literally laughed in my face. They told me, “the media’s job is not about telling the truth or protecting our country, it’s about making money.” And the media will say and do anything to generate ratings and revenue. The old adage in media, “if it bleeds, it leads” proves that point. Historically, the media was only about selling newspapers, then it was about getting TV ratings, and now it is about generating clicks. That is why many networks on liberal cable news networks promoted the campaign of Donald Trump during the 2016 primaries. He was very good for ratings. They never expected that he would actually win the presidency.
So, the media does the exact same thing that they are criticizing the Jaguars of doing. They are making decisions and altering their content to produce as much revenue as possible. There is no purity in the media. They are not interested in telling the truth. They are only interested in making a buck which is exactly what the Jaguars, the Mets, and the White Sox were doing with their questionable signings.
This brings me to Stephen A. Smith. There is not a more provocative commentator in all of American media than Stephen A. Smith. He is a bomb-thrower. He is provocative, not because he tells the truth, but because being provocative produces the biggest ratings and most clicks, which in turn pays him a handsome paycheck. If Stephen A. Smith was solely concerned about telling the truth, then his commentary on the Tim Tebow signing would have been more nuanced and fact-based, discussing the business side of professional sports, and weighing the increase in revenue that Tebow’s signing produces against sacrificing the 90th spot on the training camp roster. Instead, Stephen A. Smith chose to throw out the very provocative and unproven charge of “white privilege”. He knows exactly what he is doing. He knows that Tim Tebow is a polarizing figure, and the charge of “white privilege” stirs up emotions. His comments were purposefully inflammatory, tapping directly into those highly-charged emotions to generate ratings and clicks without uncovering truth or offering new insight.
The National Football League is a business; Major League Baseball is a business; and the American media is a business. They are all driven by one thing, money, revenue. So, it is almost comical when someone in the media who on a day-to-day basis perverts the purity of his profession for ratings and revenue, criticizes others for doing the same in their industries. These people should not be taken seriously, until they take their professions seriously.
Judd Garrett is a graduate from Princeton University, and a former NFL player, coach, and executive. He is a contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.