At times we forget about the humanity within our gladiators, viewing them solely as padded combatants who perform amazing athletic feats for our entertainment and pleasure.
We can grow angry when they hold out for more money or demand to be traded. We can question their effort when they come up short or sit out with "minor" injuries. We can feel betrayed when they don't offer home-team discounts or accept competitive deals and leave for other markets.
They're far from sympathetic figures, as many earn more in one season than most of us earn in a decade. But the notion that athletes should show loyalty to their team always has struck me as absurd. Teams are only faithful until they find better and/or cheaper options, at which point incumbents are tossed like junk mail.
Yet, it's hard to not feel bad about Tim Tebow's treatment in New York.
The Jets gave the Denver Broncos $2 million and a pair of draft picks for Tebow. He was trotted out (by himself) for a circuslike news conference, unprecedented for a backup quarterback. The Jets said the No. 2 job was his and he would run a package of plays intermittently to utilize his unconventional style.
But the Jets lied to Tebow and the public.
Owner Woody Johnson clearly was smitten by Tebowmania, but coach Rex Ryan evidently had no interest in the celebrity and no intention of giving him a shot. Ryan proved as much all season, never more so than this week when he benched Mark Sanchez and bypassed Tebow in favor of third-stringer Greg McElroy.
"I know Tim is a tremendous competitor, and I don't doubt that at all," Ryan told reporters. "But for right now, I think this move is best for our team and this game."
In other words, he has little faith and less confidence in Tebow's ability to function as an NFL quarterback.
Frankly, I agree with that assessment.
But all things considered — including his performance last season with Denver and the scenario painted when he arrived in New York — Tebow deserves the opportunity to start. The fact that he isn't only highlights the Jets' rampant dysfunction.
Tebow did everything the Jets asked of him, always with an aw-shucks smile and team-first attitude. He played on the punt team without complaint. He lined up at slotback and wideout and just shrugged. All the while he kept working on his passing, taking the Jets' word that he would get the nod if Sanchez faltered.
The only thing he didn't do much was play his position. Despite proclamations about his value and grand schemes to be devised, the Jets gave Tebow a measly 76 snaps at quarterback.
Enticed to the Big Apple under false pretenses, he's the victim of a classic bait-and-switch. He wanted the fresh start to prove himself, but the Jets just wanted him to sell tickets and garner headlines. Now that a playoff berth is out of the question, New York doesn't have the decency to toss him a bone.
There would be no harm in letting him start the last two, meaningless games. He can't perform much worse than Sanchez, who led the Jets to a 6-8 record. As ugly as Tebow can look, he still owns a 9-7 record in 16 career starts (including 1-1 in the playoffs), while McElroy appears to be backup material at best.
"Some things are hard to understand," Tebow told reporters when asked if he comprehends the Jets' thinking in acquiring him. "They were trying to do the best they can, and I understand that."
I get why the Broncos parted ways with Tebow. Even though he sparked an improbable postseason run and a stunning playoff win against Pittsburgh, Denver was well aware of his limitations and preferred its chances with a rehabbing Peyton Manning. That was a slam-dunk decision, as evidenced by the Broncos' 11-3 record and Manning's stellar quarterback ratings.
Denver did right by Tebow, sending him to a team with purported interest in his unique, unorthodox skill set.
All New York did in return was use him and abuse him, giving McElroy what rightfully should be Tebow's first start as a Jet.
"You know, sometimes things just happen out of your control," said Tebow, still taking the high road while, understandably, being open to playing elsewhere next season. "Obviously, you might not be pleased with them or happy about it. You just handle them the best you can."
He handled his cards fine.
But the Jets gave him a raw deal.
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