Monday, 16 January 2012

The Fall Of Tebow Gives America Its Very Own Black Mirror

By Shane Thomas

This week's sporting metaphor concerns Charlie Brooker's brilliant television mini-series, Black Mirror. In the first episode, "The National Anthem", the plot centres around the British Prime Minister (Michael Callow) being forced into a situation where he has to have sex with a pig on live television (this blog post will contain spoilers for the aforementioned episode).

Being a man of immense power and privilege, he's relatively disliked by the British public, so the prospect of witnessing this man debase himself to such an extreme level in front of the entire nation is thrilling and hilarious; the TV becomes Britain's fireplace, streets are emptied as people pile into pubs or anywhere there is a television set to watch the most powerful person in the country commit a forced act of bestiality.

However, the anticipative glee felt by the public soon dissipates when the horrifying act takes place. Epicaricacy turns to discomfort. No longer is anyone glad to see Callow humiliated in such a manner. Instead, they feel intense sympathy for him - and it ends up helping the PM's approval ratings.

For Michael Callow, read Tim Tebow. Over this NFL season, he's become an iconoclast for just how polarised America has become. A large portion of the country have been waiting for him to fail for a while now. And the more he defied the odds - as the Denver Broncos repeatedly won games that they should have lost - the zeal to see him fall reached... well, they reached a fervour often seen in fundamentalists.

And what a fall it was. Denver weren't just beaten by the New England Patriots, they were humiliated. Tom Brady was at his most supreme, while the Patriots defence took Tebow to the figurative woodshed. But as it rained touchdowns for the Patriots, the instant reaction - provided by the age of Twitter - was mainly solicitous towards the Denver quarterback, even from those who had heaped scorn on him for months. This was a case of the scenario not correlating with the reality. The natural human instinct for empathy took hold, and we weren't seeing a Christian icon or an overpaid celebrity who'd gotten lucky. The hype was stripped away and we only saw a human being who was having a terrible day at the office.

But when such a thing happens to you or me, it's witnessed by only a handful of people, not a worldwide television audience of millions. Denver's defeat on Saturday caused us all to look in the mirror, and many of us didn't seem to like what we saw.


- In the rancourous haze of the Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra racism storm, one minor thing seems to have been overlooked. While Suarez's eight match ban is no good thing for Liverpool - at least in the short term - it could have beneficial long term effects for the Merseysiders.

Many agreed that while Suarez would be key to Liverpool's chances of success this campaign, he would also need an extended break at some point. The Uruguayan has been one of the hardest working players in world football over the past two years. Since the 2009/10 season, he's been in action for either his club side (Ajax and Liverpool) or for Uruguay at the World Cup and Copa America. And while getting to the latter stages of those international competitions has been great for his career, they must have taken a significant toll on his body.

For a player whose game depends so much on high energy, it is clear that Suarez was getting ever closer to the point of burnout. And while the circumstances were far from ideal, it saved Kenny Dalglish making a tough decision of when to pull his key man out of the firing line. Expect Suarez to return fully refreshed and make a huge impact at the business end of the season.

- The controversies this season surrounding Suarez and John Terry have put the issue of racism back on the football agenda. Over the past few weeks, ex-players have received racial abuse on their Twitter accounts, Oldham's Tom Adeyemi was racially abused by a fan during an FA Cup game, and only this weekend, two Rangers players (Maurice Edu & Kyle Bartley) were on the receiving end of bigoted tweets.

The consensus to this has been one of horror and disgust, and is seeming to be treated with requisite seriousness by the authorities. This shows how much progress has been made in our society, but also shows how much influence the game's leading players have over its fans.

The issue here isn't whether Suarez and Terry are guilty of racist abuse, as only the implication is needed to take such noxious actions out of mainstream behaviour and make it a more common occurrence. Racism is a form of bigotry that has been gradually driven underground over the past 3 decades, but it's a societal decency that isn't as secure as some like to think. While it's not football's responsibility to be society's Jiminy Cricket, it only takes the slightest slip of the tongue from a high profile player to precipitate people who normally keep their prejudice to themselves, to spread their poisonous opinions in the public sphere.

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