COMMENTARY | When it comes to Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez, everyone has an opinion, but not the same one. The peculiar aspect of the two debates surrounding these two players is that opinions continue to grow apart rather than together. As further evidence comes in year after year, critics become ever more critical, while fans become ever more fanatical, and the dialogue becomes ever more incoherent.
How is it that after years of watching the same games and seeing the same data, millions of fans continue to disagree so vehemently and so fundamentally with each other?
Tebow and Sanchez are two of the statistically worst quarterbacks in recent history to have achieved playoff success. They stir up heated, deep-set emotions about what matters in football, what fans should root for and what they should care about when following the NFL.
So who do you love? Who do you hate? And do you know why?
Mark Sanchez: Love Him or Hate Him?
Mark Sanchez has led a fascinating career to date. In his first two seasons with the New York Jets, he saw almost unprecedented levels of success for such a young quarterback with only one year of college experience. By winning four road playoff games and reaching the AFC Championship game both years, he exceeded even the loftiest expectations. He earned gushing praise from a variety of sources. Ian O'Connor of ESPNNewYork.com once called him more poised than Tom Brady. David Barbour of BleacherReport.com called him more clutch than Brady and Ben Roethlisberger.
We all know the stats that Sanchez's fans could quote. He tied an all-time NFL record with four road playoff victories in his young career. He earned more playoff victories (four) than Tom Brady has (three) in the time they have been in the league together (since 2009). He defeated both Brady and Peyton Manning head-to-head.
Yet as strong as the praise has been, the criticism has been just as heated, if not more so. Alok Pattani and Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Info suggested that Sanchez was the worst quarterback in the entire NFL. Matt Schreiber of BleacherReport.com voiced a similar opinion. Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com has frequently referred to Sanchez as "terrible."
It is interesting that those who compare Sanchez to Tom Brady and those who consider him to be worse than backups have been watching the same footage as each other for just over four years now.
Tim Tebow: Love Him or Hate Him?
If there is one quarterback who can stir up a touchier debate than Sanchez, it is Tim Tebow. To many fans, Tebow remains an elite quarterback, a man who can literally do no wrong. Even recently, he has been noted as being compared to Peyton Manning (via HuffingtonPost.com).
Tebow is viewed as both historically great and historically terrible. He was selected to the all-time Any Era Team (via ESPN.com) but also to the all-time Overhyped Team (via Adam Rank of NFL.com). He has been called at times the worst passer in NFL history (via Charles Joel of Yahoo! Sports) and unable to succeed even in the CFL (via James Walker of ESPN.com).
Is there some conspiracy here? Are we being shown two different broadcasts and not realizing it? How are we to make sense of this?
While it may not explain the entire phenomenon, a great deal of these existing disparities boil down to what is called narrowcast consumption of media. Narrowcast (as opposed to broadcast) is media that is targeted at a subset of the population and consumed on an intentional or semi-intentional basis. Whereas in the past, news came primarily through broadcast means (national television and major newspapers), fans now have the benefits of ready access to targeted media. Twitter, Facebook, blogs and quality search engines make this content easy to find without fans having to be exposed to alternate viewpoints.
The result is that the same news can be broadcast in two ways with two different spins. In 2012, there were countless reports about how Tebow was awful in practice and demonstrated he was unfit to play. At the same time, there were reports that Sanchez should have been benched for the far superior Tebow. These stories were reporting the same news, the same events, but with radically different takes. Whose stories did you read?
The feature of narrowcast consumption of media is that it leads to extreme bias, where increased prevalence of evidence leads to enhanced disagreement rather than consensus. Through wise use of Google searches, a reader can find articles that agree with a set of beliefs and avoid the articles that might provide contrary evidence. Choices for Twitter account follows and RSS feed subscriptions ensure that the only news that meets our eyes will continue to repeat the mantras we expect to see, regardless of new evidence.
There is not necessarily anything wrong with this setup. Part of sports culture is fanaticism, and one piece of fanaticism can be based on the conviction of beliefs in the face of contrary evidence. Yet some people may be interested in both sides of the story, in understanding why the opinions are so dramatically opposed. If so, a little search engine de-optimization can be tried. Click on a story you might not have a week ago. Read a post or two (or ten) from a blog that generally disagrees with you, and see why they have so many followers.
Where Do I Stand?
One might ask what my take is on the two quarterbacks in question. My view is a bit boring, perhaps because it is only a basic representation of facts available to any of us.
Mark Sanchez is a mediocre starting quarterback, clearly deserving of a roster spot on any team but not elite enough to resoundingly earn a starting position in the NFL. As such, he might be replaced as soon as this summer by Geno Smith and relegated to a second-string position. Tim Tebow is the third-string quarterback on the New England Patriots, currently lacking in the skills that would be required to give any competition whatsoever to Tom Brady. However, he is skilled enough to function in a utility role on offense or as a special teams player (and either way skilled enough to make at least a CFL roster).
The one utterly true fact about both of these quarterbacks is that as polarized as opinions were about both of them in 2010, they are only more polarized now in 2013. Their fans are more fanatical and their critics more critical. Unless you take the time to read arguments from both sides, you will always be left wondering why half the country agrees with you while the other half thinks you are crazy.
Adam Waksman is a Yahoo! contributor in sports. He also covers the New York Jets for Bleacher Report, where he is a Featured Columnist and award-winning blogger.
You can follow Adam on Twitter here.
- American Football
- Sports & Recreation
- Mark Sanchez
- Tim Tebow
- Tom Brady