Tebow's not endorsing candidates
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 26, 2008 at 12:33 a.m.
Tim Tebow is known for making clutch plays, pushing the University of Florida's football team over the goal line when the odds seem stacked against the Gators. So it's perhaps no surprise, as the primary season in Florida reached its proverbial fourth quarter, that U.S. presidential candidates were calling on the Heisman Trophy winner to work some of his magic on their behalf.
- Clinton: Barbra Streisand, Jack Nicholson, Stephen Spielberg, Magic Johnson, Carly Simon
- Obama: Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney, Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Scarlett Johansson
- Huckabee: Chuck Norris, Ted Nugent, Ric Flair
- McCain: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Selleck, Rip Torn
Tebow, the Gators' star quarterback, has been courted by "multiple" presidential candidates — Republican and Democratic — for his endorsement, UF athletics officials confirmed to The Sun. Thus far, however, he's declined to give his stamp of approval to anyone.
"He's focused on his priorities: God, family, academics and the Gators, and (he) just thought that people should do their research and make their decision with what's in their heart," said Zack Higbee, assistant director of UF sports information.
Higbee wouldn't provide the names of specific candidates who have sought Tebow's endorsement, saying he didn't want Tebow's decision to remain publicly neutral to be perceived as a slight at a particular candidate or group of candidates.
That said, the allure of the 235-pound quarterback's endorsement has candidates of every variety seeking his approval.
"Tim has been approached by multiple politicians on various levels," Higbee said. "That includes campus, local, the state and the national level."
Tebow, who grew up in Duval County, is a registered Republican voter there, according to the Florida Department of State's Division of Elections.
High-profile athletes aren't strangers to political endorsements. Emmitt Smith, the former Gator running back and NFL great, has endorsed Barack Obama, the Illinois senator seeking the Democratic nomination. Earvin "Magic" Johnson has backed Obama's chief rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.
Other celebrity tough guy endorsements include Chuck Norris, the action hero who backed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Sylvester Stallone, the actor of "Rocky" fame who endorsed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
There's a major difference between Tebow and folks like Norris and Stallone. Tebow is a 20-year-old college student with a promising career ahead of him, unlike some politically active celebrities who are in the twilight of public life and consequently have less to lose, according to Daniel Smith, head of the political campaigning program at UF.
"I think while there might be a temptation to reach out, it does bring some risks. I think he was probably wise not to jump into the fray," Smith said. "Tim Tebow has a huge career ahead of him in the athletic world. Chuck Norris' days are on Betamax."
Candidates for the 2008 presidential race appear to have placed a premium on endorsements from tough guys like Norris and Stallone.
At a time when national security highlights the list of voters' concerns, it probably doesn't hurt to have the support of muscle-bound heroes known for beating up bad guys or bowling over linebackers, according to Lynda Lee Kaid, a professor of telecommunication at UF who specializes in political communication.
"I think that would be a positive aspect to (Tebow's endorsement) right now in this particular environment," Kaid said.
So do celebrity endorsements work? Kaid says they can. Kaid helped conduct a study last year that examined whether voters were inclined to trust Ben Affleck, the actor, as much as they trusted traditional experts on issues like social security reform.
"People were just as likely to believe what Ben Affleck said about it as they were a group with expertise or politicians who are knowledgable about it," Kaid said.
While Tebow might have the power to influence the political sphere, it would be a rare and perhaps perilous move for a college athlete, according to Smith, an associate professor of political science.
Fans in The Swamp may agree on their favorite football team, but not necessarily their favorite candidate, Smith said.
"It's hard to think about where any (college) athletes that have done that," Smith said. "The risk is that you are almost guaranteed of alienating half of your fan base when you make a political endorsement."
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