x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

It's a matter of character for the NFL

The NFL seems to be placing more emphasis on off-field behaviour, says Paul Pabst.

Tim Tebow is under pressure to be a role model for an NFL with good character.
Tim Tebow is under pressure to be a role model for an NFL with good character.

The NFL seems to be placing more emphasis on off-field behaviour, says Paul Pabst One day before the 2010 National Football League draft last week, Roger Goodell, the league commissioner, suspended Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, for six games for a run of bad behaviour off the field. Goodell is continuing to send his message that this is the new, well-behaved NFL. What happened the following day at the draft sent an even stronger message. There were four quarterbacks who were expected to be drafted in rounds one or two. The consensus was that Sam Bradford of Oklahoma would go first, Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame second, Colt McCoy of Texas third and Tim Tebow of Florida fourth.

Tebow had a stellar career at Florida. He won two national championships and a Heisman Trophy. The main reason he was ranked as the fourth-best quarterback is that Tebow ran an option offence for the Gators: Tebow ran as often as he threw. The scouts said he needed a lot of work on his passing ability to make it in the NFL. However, the Denver Broncos took Tebow with the 25th pick of the first round. This was much higher than the analysts predicted and well before Clausen and McCoy.

So the question is why? To really get a feel for the new NFL product that Goodell is trying to put out you have to also look at the player drafted one spot before Tebow. The Dallas Cowboys selected Dez Bryant, the Oklahoma State star wide receiver, with the 24th pick. Eight months ago the ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper predicted that Bryant would be a top-five pick. Over the past eight months Bryant has had a number of off-field issues that have put his character into question. This slide in the draft cost him millions, while Tebow going earlier than expected made him millions.

After the negative coverage that Roethlisberger, the Steelers and the NFL have received in the past three months, I believe that Tebow "charactered" himself into the first round of the draft. What else can it be? It is not like he suddenly became a better passer than Clausen or McCoy. Tebow is the moral cleanser that the NFL needs. During his time at Florida, Tebow was open about his religion and his belief that he has a calling to play football to spread a message of a clean lifestyle. When other college athletes spent their summer time laying around, Tebow got publicity for working with his parents to help underprivileged children in impoverished countries.

He became a household name for his play on the field and his lifestyle off it. After the draft, the media asked him about his goals for his rookie year. Even his answer was perfect. "I'm going to have one goal and that goal is to earn the respect of my teammates and coaches. That's the only goal I have," he said. "It's not to be the starting quarterback right now, it is to earn their respect, because when you earn respect from people, then they begin to like you, and then they believe in you, and then they begin to love you, and then you have a team that is united and cares about each other more than anything else."

I know that the NFL cannot change overnight, but Goodell is steadfast that his league will not be inundated with bad publicity for his players' off-field actions. Now the pressure has fallen on Tebow to be the face of this new movement, to spread his message of a clean lifestyle and to play great football for the Broncos. Not much pressure on a 22-year old, is there? sports@thenational.ae