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When the Denver Broncos inexplicably drafted Tim Tebow in the first round two years ago, I made a bold prediction, immortalized on Twitter, that he’d be out of the league and running for Congress three years hence. I think my assessment of his football skills holds up pretty well, even if my timing was a bit overaggressive: He’s gone from starter to backup, so his career trajectory is clear enough. And I’m more certain than ever of his political skills, especially after yesterday’s 33-minute solo press conference to introduce himself as a New York Jet to the local media.
It’s been clear for some time now that Tebow’s personal attributes make him a blue-chip Republican political prospect: good looks, competitiveness, overt religiosity, and an inclination toward public service. Yesterday’s news conference showed that he also has a soft touch with the media and a gift for gracefully deflecting adversarial questions that are invaluable and increasingly necessary in the world of politics—as Rick “It’s Bulls—” Santorum could probably attest.
In fact, one of the notable things about Tebow’s event is how closely it resembled a political press conference, rather than a boosterish, softball-laden press conference more typical of the sports world—a fact I attribute to the uniquely aggressive New York media corps. The first three questions Tebow fielded were all good examples of this, and his response to each one illustrated the gifts he’d bring to politics.
The first was a “gotcha” question about the discrepancy between his and John Elway’s account of how Tebow had arrived with the Jets: Elway said Tebow had a role in choosing the team; Tebow had suggested otherwise. In response, Tebow put on a big smile, offered a clear explanation—he was consulted only after the initial trade agreement was held up—and snuffed out any embers of controversy by twice thanking the “gracious” Broncos team that had just dumped him.
The second questioner sought to pit Tebow against a teammate, Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez, by asking him, “As a competitor, do you want to be the starter? Do you hope to be the starter?” The purpose of this question was to create what football reporters long for—a bona fide “quarterback controversy”—and the questioner tried a clever bit of misdirection by opening with a little preamble testifying to Tebow’s vaunted “personal competitiveness” in hopes of eliciting the response that yes, he’s gunning to be the starting quarterback. Tebow dodged his aggressor as easily as if he were a 150-pound cornerback. “I think everybody that puts on a uniform, you want to go out there, you want to play,” he said. “That’s why you play the game of football, and I’m excited to be a Jet, to go out there, and to help this team any way that I can. Whatever my role is, however I can expand that role, I’m gonna try to do that. Every day in practice, I’m gonna go out and compete and try to get better as a quarterback and help this team any way that I can.” This was very smooth: Tebow said he wanted to “play” rather than “start,” and “expand that role” rather than “supplant that overpaid mediocrity Mark Sanchez,” shutting down the questioner while maintaining a positive, agreeable tone throughout.
The third question was a variation on the second, this time a straightforward attempt to stir up trouble between Tebow and Sanchez by raising the possibility of a controversy. “I really don’t pay too much attention to it,” Tebow replied, and then pivoted to praising the teammate he was meant to trash. “But I think the exciting thing is that me and Mark have a great relationship—we have had a good relationship for the last three years, we’ve been friends, we’ve texted back and forth, we’ve talked already, and we’re gonna have a great relationship and a great working relationship—and I think we’ll have a lot of fun together.”
The questions continued along these lines for another 20 minutes, the media coming at Tebow from every angle, determined to extract something—anything!—that could make the basis for a controversy, especially one that involved Sanchez, who’s less than beloved. Tebow consistently lowered expectations when the media tried to raise them; deflected personal criticism of his lousy passing skills with positive thinking (“I think I’m improving every single day”); and prevented anyone from portraying him as a diva by subordinating his personal desire to play quarterback to the betterment of the team, however it wants to use him. He even dispensed kind words for his tormentors, noting what an honor it was that so many members of the media showed up to hear him speak.
All told, Tebow proved impervious to the most aggressive and adversarial press corp in professional sports and finished the day looking even better than he had when it began. These aren’t just the skills of a talented athlete. They’re qualities that will make Tebow a successful national politician, and—who knows?—maybe one day, a president.