SBD/January 2, 2014/Media

ESPN's Hiring Of Tebow Met With Skepticism As Pundits Wonder If He Can Be Critical

Tebow will still be allowed to pursue playing opportunities in the NFL
ESPN on Monday hired free agent QB Tim Tebow as an analyst for the SEC Network, and Tebow said he plans to be "positive but also be someone that is objective." He added, "I've never had a hard time saying what I believed or standing up for something, and hopefully I can continue to be that same person as an analyst and sharing what I believe about players, about teams, about games." SEC Network VP/Production Stephanie Druley said Tebow is "a football junkie." She added, "He lives, breathes and eats the game. That's what you look for in an analyst, and the best analysts teach somebody, teach the viewers about the game." Druley: "If criticism is warranted, I think he'll give criticism." ESPN Senior VP/Programming Justin Connolly said of Tebow using his new platform to espouse his views on Christianity, "We hired him for his football opinions and his analysis of football and his experience and his view and knowledge of the SEC and the SEC fans and playing in the SEC. ... That's what the focus of the relationship is going to be." Tebow said of covering his alma mater, "I'll always be a Gator, but I have to be objective, as well, and I believe I can do that." Druley: "I expect him to be a new voice, an exciting voice, and a different perspective than we've heard before." The SEC Network is based in Charlotte, but Tebow said he is "not sure where I'll be living." He said, "I know we have to travel a lot every single week, so I'm sure I'll be on the road a lot" (THE DAILY). Tebow's primary role will be as an analyst for "SEC Nation," the network's traveling pregame show that will originate from a different SEC campus each week. In the months leading up to the network's launch and after, Tebow will contribute to a variety of ESPN platforms, including "SportsCenter," ESPN Radio and the network's Heisman Trophy coverage. Tebow will make his debut as an ESPN analyst on Monday during pregame coverage of the Vizio BCS National Championship. He also will be part of studio coverage for the new College Football Playoff. Tebow is the first college football analyst hired for the SEC Network. Meanwhile, Tebow's contract with ESPN has a clause that will not preclude him from continuing to pursue playing opportunities in the NFL (ESPN).

WE GO TOGETHER: SI.com's Richard Deitsch noted ESPN "has pushed a singular mantra when it comes to college football: You can never have too much SEC." The network in similar fashion "has ridden news surrounding Tim Tebow with a Justin Bieber-like fervor." Now, these "two forces have come together, and it should make for an interesting ride." The initial question is "how successful will Tebow be as an analyst." He is one of the "most popular (and likeable) athletes in the country, and he'll no doubt work hard to learn the craft." Still, his "opinions on football have mostly been vanilla" (SI.com, 12/30). Deitsch, following the Tebow conference call, wrote, "For those seeking an instant broadcasting take, Tebow is a super-nice kid, stays on script like Daniel Day-Lewis and will not be a critical analyst in any shape or form, at least not initially" (SI.com, 12/31).

WORK IN PROGRESS: SPORTS ON EARTH's Colin McGowan wrote Tebow "could have been an NFL washout with Frankenstein mechanics, but Bristol chose to make him a star." However, it is "hard to imagine him being good at his new job." His "lack of substance will be laid bare, in the same way someone like Mike Ditka’s mystique dissipated once he had to speak into a camera." Tebow "won’t fall so hard, because he does seem like a pleasant guy." His "strong takes on fun and teamwork will add little to whatever broadcast he’s on, but he will be Tim Tebow, and, terrifyingly, discouragingly, that might be enough" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 12/31). PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Michael David Smith wrote, "Realistically, it’s unlikely that Tebow will be in the NFL next year, so it’s good news for him that he now has another way to make a living." Tebow’s public statements "tend to be bland and free of controversy, which wouldn’t seem to make him a good fit as a TV commentator, but his following is big enough that he’ll immediately become one of ESPN’s most popular on-air personalities" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 12/30). CANADA.com's Rob Brodie wrote, "Not surprisingly, the news was greeted with a certain level of cynicism among those who a) wonder if good guy Tebow will ever have it in him to be critical as a broadcaster and b) aren’t the least bit surprised that ESPN -- which has worshipped at the altar of Tebow for years -- would now try to turn him into a TV star" (CANADA.com, 12/30). In Florida, David Jones wrote, "I'm not so sure this was a great idea." The SEC already is "the smug, rich kid. ... Now this?" (FLORIDA TODAY, 1/1).

TWITTER REAX: CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman wrote, "Curious how Tebow will do on TV. He's certainly comfortable in his own skin & in Joe Tess, he couldn't ask for a better TV teammate." The Birmingham News' Jon Solomon: "One unpleasant option: ESPN turns Tebow-Finebaum into good-cop, bad-cop routine mirroring Holtz and May." Solomon added, "Tebow is a natural fit for SEC Network's goal: Get viewers. Will be interesting to see if he will offer critical analysis." LPGA Chief Communications Officer Kraig Kann wrote, "Love him or not, #Tebow guarantees ratings, relevance for @SECNetwork. A masterful hire." The N.Y. Post's Bart Hubbuch: "On a serious note, I'm not sure what ESPN thinks it's getting with Tebow. Nicest guy you could meet, but he's a terrible interview. Woeful." The AP's Ralph Russo wrote, "Tebow and SEC Network. The perfect marriage. Mazel Tov to the happy couple." USA Today's Dan Wolken: "My question on Tebow as an analyst: Will he be critical? If he's willing to do that he could be good."
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