In October, Doug Gottlieb, a radio host and basketball analyst who'd decamped for CBS the previous month after nine years with ESPN, went on The Dan Patrick Show and dropped something of a truth bomb about his time in Bristol:
I was told specifically, "You can't talk enough Tebow." I would jokingly throw it into a segment. "I gotta find 15 seconds here to talk about Tebow, all right let's move on and talk about Major League Baseball."
Later, he said:
Is it ridiculous how much you have to talk about Tebow? Yeah! But for whatever reason people can't get enough of that story, and they kind of stoke the fire—that's kind of what ESPN does.
Gottlieb was referring to the network's yearlong infatuation with Tebow, a player who hasn't made much actual news since he was traded to the Jets in March. Bristol executives have decided that what we want—or what we should want—is Tebow. "They want to own the Tebow story," said Jim Miller, the author of the ESPN oral history Those Guys Have All The Fun. "They want to put their watermark on it."
This helps explain why, over the summer, ESPN dispatched veteran reporter Sal Paolantonio and a crew to cover Jets camp as if it were the run-up to the Super Bowl. ("ESPN embarrassed themselves," Dan Patrick, who spent 18 years in Bristol, said of ESPN's flood-the-zone coverage in Florham Park.) This helps explain why ESPN2's First Take referred to Tim Tebow more than seven dozen times in late May even though there was absolutely no Tebow news to report on. This helps explain why SportsCenter covered Tim Tebow's 25th birthday like a moon landing. This helps explain why it seemed perfectly reasonable to a SportsCenter anchor to ask in-studio guest Liam Neeson whether Tim Tebow should be the Jets' starting quarterback even though Liam Neeson had no clue what he was talking about. This helps explain how ESPN wound up breaking Tim Tebow news to, yes, Tim Tebow.
The story of how ESPN fell in love with Tim Tebow is really the story of a breakup, between ESPN and the business of reporting the news.