After being out of the league for nearly a decade (his most recent regular-season appearance came 3,054 days ago on December 30, 2012), former Heisman winner and Denver Broncos first-round pick Tim Tebow made his triumphant return to the NFL Monday, signing a one-year deal to play tight end for the Jacksonville Jaguars. This represents a homecoming of sorts for Tebow, who grew up in nearby Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, about 20 miles east of Jacksonville. The move also reunites the 33-year-old with his former University of Florida head coach Urban Meyer.
Tebow’s signing, coming on the heels of a failed baseball career as a minor-league outfielder for the New York Mets, has all the familiar markings of a shameless publicity stunt. Tebow is, by all accounts, a remarkably selfless and giving person whose impact as a philanthropist and community leader goes far beyond his reach as an athlete. But does Tebow’s squeaky-clean image warrant employment—perhaps at the expense of other, more deserving candidates—at a position he wasn’t qualified for a decade ago, much less now? Free agent wide receiver Dez Bryant was among many flabbergasted to see Tebow cut the line.
The fact that Tebow, who was never a particularly effective NFL player (aside from his miracle late-season run with Denver in 2011), would land a job before Bryant—at a position he’s never played before, no less—is head-scratching to say the least and a prime example of what many would call “white privilege.” The NFL, a majority African-American league, has weathered diversity issues for the entirety of its century-long existence, from the patronizing Rooney Rule (has there ever been a bigger farce in sports than Nick Sirianni getting hired before Eric Bieniemy?) to the unfair scrutiny faced by black quarterbacks (as Justin Fields could attest) relative to their white counterparts.
Cognizant that his criticism of Jacksonville’s Tebow signing might not go over well, Bryant followed up his initial tweet by calling on black players and coaches to support each other and provide opportunities like the one Tebow was afforded in Jacksonville.
Tebow’s return to the NFL after a lengthy hiatus predictably garnered widespread attention, though his stint in Jacksonville could be short-lived as many consider him a longshot to crack the Jags’ opening-week roster. As for Bryant, the former Cowboys mainstay saw the field eight times for Baltimore last season (playoffs included), contributing six catches for 47 yards and two touchdowns over that span. Though Bryant was thankful for the opportunity after being out of the sport entirely in 2019, the 32-year-old acknowledged Baltimore “wasn’t for me.”