7. Did Your Tebow Question Cross the Line?
RCS: This is a long question -- even by our standards. You've recently been in the middle of a big controversy. You asked if Tim Tebow was saving himself for marriage, and there was an uproar.
On one side, guys like Dan Shanoff argued the question was relevant: “I think Tebow will ultimately feel glad for having been able to share that piece of personal information -- he certainly didn't seem particularly thrown by the question when it was asked. But I can see him understanding that there are evangelical Christians out there who will find their strength in his values. Those who don't share those values? Live and let live.”
Whereas on the other side, Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports said the question lacked professionalism: "[Clay Travis's] latest job is with AOL Fanhouse. The site currently employs some of my favorite writers. Clay Travis is not one of them. Not now, because it sickens me to be reminded again that journalism has become a hobby instead of a vocation."
Why was it important to ask Tebow about his virginity? And more broadly, in your opinion, where is the line between what should and shouldn't be asked?
Travis: I wouldn't have asked any of the 23 other athletes who appeared at SEC Media Days that question, but Tim Tebow is bigger than football. Name a person under the age of 40 who is more famous in America today because of their faith. I can't.
The same week I asked the question, Sports Illustrated ran a cover story set inside a prison where Tebow evangelized prisoners that ended with this line, "...says the man who joked that he asked the Lord for a preacher and got a quarterback. The truth is, he got both."
We know that Tebow circumcises kids, that his mom was advised to get an abortion, that the regular laws of physics don't apply to him. Or so it seems. His religion is integral to him, and so I think his religion is fair game. What's more, I think, as you could see by the response, he welcomed the question. He wanted to be asked it. I would do it again tomorrow.
Some people thought it was my intent to embarrass him, it wasn't at all. I believed his answer would be that he was saving himself. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church. Part of being a Christian in that faith is evangelizing. Dads and moms brag about their kids saving themselves for marriage. Publicly. I was surprised the question got the attention and not the answer. Because, to be honest, have you ever walked around an SEC campus? The very fact that someone like Tebow is saving himself is amazing.
More proof, as if we needed any, that Tebow is a mythic figure in our sporting life, someone who is not quite like us, someone better than us. Ask Thom Brennaman.
Now, as for the line, I'm not sure. Spencer Hall [of EDSBS and The Sporting Blog] jokingly told me he was going to ask Les Miles if he was a virgin. That's probably across the line. Funnier, but across the line. In that same column you quoted from Dennis Dodd, he suggested I ask players if they had herpes. If I'd been really ballsy, and had a friend up on the stage, I would have said, "(Insert player name here) Dennis Dodd of CBS was afraid to ask this question but he wanted me to: do you have herpes?” Of course I might not have made it out of Alabama alive, but it would have been funny.
The reality is lines are situational and governed by the person who is being asked the question. I'd have to internally debate it, bounce it off people whose opinion I trusted, and then I'd have to trust my opinion. My line is evidently more expansive than others. So be it. I think some of that is generational. My life is a pretty open book. Lots of people in my generation are pretty open with the things we post on blogs or say on Facebook. So I think that plays in as well.
The more interesting thing Dodd said in your quote, that I think is laughable, is that he longed for the day when sportswriting wasn't a hobby. Really? When would that be exactly? How many years in all of human history have people actually made livings solely writing about sports in the world? 75, maybe 85? As far as writing goes, full-time sportswriting is an infant.
People can make a living writing about sports because we're a ridiculously wealthy society with a lot of free time. They're just games. Most people love sports because they take them away from the serious things in their lives, not because they are the serious things in their lives. The reason there's a market for someone like me (and many others) is because there's such a fundamental disconnect between how sports is covered today and how fans experience sports today. That's why I've never hidden from the fact that I'm a fan. I think most intelligent sports fans are inherently distrustful of writers who claim to be "objective" in their coverage of sports. We all have biases in our life; I'm up front with mine. If you don't trust my opinion on Tim Tebow because I root for Tennessee more power to you, read someone else. But I think what the market has shown us is that there's an awful lot of fans from the younger generations who are more likely to trust my opinion of Tim Tebow because I'm a fan. Some people haven't caught up to that yet.