Tim Tebow, Child of Privilege And Evidence For Equal Opportunity

Warning: This post contains politics.

Tim Tebow's been a success at every level of football so far. State titles at Nease High School begat national titles with Florida, which, in turn, begat a first round draft pick and an improbable run of comebacks in the NFL with the Broncos. That's both because he's grown up with almost every advantage an American could want and because he's been given equal opportunity to succeed at almost every juncture; he's a powerful symbol both for how privilege aids everyone and how equal opportunity is what we should strive for.

Did you grow up with knowledge of what a world beyond you was like? Tebow did, as a child in the Philippines and a son of missionaries. As a result, he knew how to interact with all sorts of people from an early age. And his family's certainly not poor, given that they ended up on a massive tract of land in Duval County after returning to Florida post-missionary work.

Did you grow up without the pressures and worries about conventional schooling that Tebow did? Home-schooled throughout his childhood, Tebow got into Florida as an athlete despite reporting an 890 on the SAT, a score that would only barely qualify him for the state's vocational merit scholarship if he were a current prospective student and would almost assuredly not be good enough for admission to UF if he were not an athlete; his 3.5 GPA, though, made up for virtually any SAT score he could have received. Also, Tebow's dyslexia was almost certainly better-suited to home-schooling, considering the flexibility afforded by it.

Did your parents rent an apartment for you to play high school football for a specific coach and offense? Tebow got his shot at Nease by exploiting a loophole in FHSAA by-laws and living with his mother in an apartment closer to Nease, and was only eligible to play for a public school as a home-schooled player because of a rule put in place a decade earlier.

Did you play football with all of the great players Tebow did at Florida? For Urban Meyer 1.0? At a school that has Nike and ESPN and SEC affiliations that made for all sorts of attention and helped you pass on your message to the world?

All of these comprise what we can loosely call privilege, or status that is granted by social class and race and gender and all of the other social constructs that make up our world. And, usually, privilege helps those who have it; Tebow's no exception. But Tebow's made about as much as possible of his privilege and opportunities.

Tebow's experiences with missionary work before college made him a compelling guy, one who would be the subject of an ESPN documentary in high school because of it. He leveraged his prowess as a thrower and a runner into scholarship offers, and chose the school that would both best fit him as a player and best magnify his reach. He got coaching and game-planning tailored to him that helped him succeed, and turned that into two titles and a career of staggering achievements.

I can't remember another player who had a coach brought in to make a college player a better pro prospect like Scot Loeffler was supposed to do for Tebow in 2009, but Tebow even working with Loeffler was a sign that he wanted to do what was necessary to be an NFL quarterback; the hype about that attempt to prepare for the draft was so massive that he was the subject of another documentary, Everything In Between, filmed by the son of one of Florida's biggest boosters, which aired on ESPN and has become another piece of Tebow lore.

And, of course, you know a little bit about what Tebow has done as a pro this year, with wins that are often attributed in part to his grit and inspiration and less frequently noted as results of a lackluster schedule and the improvement of his team around him.

But all that just speaks to one of the fundamental pillars of the Tebow movement: Where there is a will, there's a way. It's a pro-equal opportunity stance, at its core, and Bob Tebow articulated as much when talking about his son's education back in 2006:

"People ought to be able to choose to go where they want to go for whatever reason it is," Bob Tebow said. "We're talking about the basic freedom to pursue happiness and succeed at whatever it is.

"Nobody would put restrictions on a tuba player finding the best tuba program that matches up with their child or finding the best piano program for their daughter.

"People are not dumb; they know that if they find the right place with the right coach, their kids have a better chance at succeeding and learning what they need to learn to advance instead of being married to a program that doesn't fit them."

Tying up equal opportunity and the Constitution's guarantee of the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is a really potent idea, and one that many who see equal opportunity as a goal for American society to push toward would probably agree with. Those same folks, myself included, would probably disagree that finding the way to play football for a public school is analogous to finding the best tuba possible, but that's where Tebow's privilege and his optimization of opportunity should meet to create a powerful point.

If we give citizens as many privileges possible, and they enjoy equal opportunity to do the things they want, their successes can be dramatic. Just check out Tim Tebow in the fourth quarter.

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