In the space of 24 hours, we’ve now heard three sports reporters finally come out and call Tebow stupid. There was the article yesterday that said that he was so dyslexic and ADD he couldn’t keep the letter-number sequence straight between leaving the huddle and reaching the line. Now dyslexia is one of those words that sometimes means what it says and sometimes means something else, like dumb. Which is why Merrill Hoge said the problem was “an IQ problem, an intelligence issue,” and now Will Brinson has said that Tebow’s “no Braniac.”
Leaving aside for a moment the fascinating question of whether intelligence matters in football, this brings up a thorny moral question. I’ve long argued that people should be on the hook for behavior that is controllable. That is, it’s unfair to criticize or penalize people for sex, race, height or sexual orientation because none of those are controllable by the individual. (Having said that, there are some uncontrollable sexual orientations, e.g., pedophilia, that we as a society choose to hold people accountable for because their effects are so heinous. It may not be completely fair to the pederast, but not to do so would be unfair to the victims.)
The flip side of my argument is that it is fair to criticize people for things they can control, like smoking, obesity, laziness, and rudeness. Controlling those may be hard, but enough people have done it that we can reasonably draw the conclusion that it’s doable.
But what about just being plain stupid?
I’ve criticized Tebow heavily for using his faith to essentially steal a job from a more deserving athlete when it was obvious that he was unable to fulfill the requirements of the position. But what if he was just too plain dumb to know what he was doing?
It’s not surprising that he’s stupid. He’s very religious and numerous studies have shown a strong correlation between lack of intelligence and religious fervor. This is not to say, of course, that all religious people are stupid or that all smart people are atheists. That’s not the way statistics works. It just says we shouldn’t be surprised when religious people are fools.
Tebowistas have argued that he deserves a job in the NFL because he has a set of vague non-athletic and non-mental characteristics like “leadership” and “being a winner” or “goodness.” (All of which is code for being a white Christian, by the way, but never mind that.) The truth, however painful it may be, is that economics rewards talent. If you want to earn out-sized rewards in life, for the most part it helps to have some innate and highly prized skill, usually athletic or cognitive ability. And it is necessary that skill be very specific. For example, it’s not enough to be smart, you need to smart in certain ways, like mathematically, to get rewarded. Or it’s not enough to be fast and quick, you need hip flexibility to be an NFL cornerback.
That’s not particularly reassuring. It would probably be a nicer world if economics rewarded made-up stuff like emotional intelligence instead of real intelligence. If so, caregivers in nursing homes would earn more than hedge fund managers instead of minimum wage. But sadly, that’s not the case. Goodness may lead to happiness or any other number of factors, but it doesn’t get you a top slot in pro sports. Indeed, many of the most admired athletes out there demonstrably lack one iota of goodness, e.g., Tiger, Roger Clemens, Ben Roethlesberger, ad infintum and ad nauseam.
So it’s more than fair to criticize Timmy for conning his way into a job (and conning someone else out of one) if he knew what he was doing.
But what if he’s just too stupid to know he sucks? I would never, ever, ever criticize or make fun of the mentally handicapped kids at the pool.
Maybe being a Christian doesn’t let Tebow off the hook, like his many fans believe, but perhaps being dumb does.