When Superbowl XLIV kicks off this Sunday in South Florida, the football player that has arguably received the most press in the weeks leading up to the game won’t be on the field. That’s because Tim Tebow isn’t yet an NFL player.
The former Florida Gator and past Heisman Trophy winner will have to wait until April to find out where he will be starting his professional career. One thing he won’t have to worry about in his rookie season is name recognition.
If you hadn’t heard of Tim Tebow previously, you probably have by now. Tebow and his mother, Pam, will be featured in a thirty-second commercial to be aired during the Superbowl. The ad – which reportedly cost two million dollars – was paid for by the conservative political advocacy organization, Focus on the Family. The organization is being tight-lipped about the commercial’s content. They did issue a press release indicating the Tebows will share a personal story centered on the theme of “Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life.” Many believe the Tebows will share a pro-life (or anti-choice, depending on your point of view) message. In 1987, Tebow’s mother was working as a missionary in the Philippines, when she contracted amoebic dysentery, an illness that posed significant risk to her fetus. Reportedly, Mrs. Tebow was advised to have an abortion and refused. Happily, her son, Tim, was born perfectly healthy.
Abortion rights and women’s advocacy groups, such as Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women (NOW), have gone on the offensive, urging CBS to pull the ad before it airs. NOW released the following statement:
“Make no mistake about this ad: it’s offensive to women… Standing alone, it sends the message that all women who give birth are heroes; it sends a message that abortion is always a mistake; and it is insulting to the one in three women in this country who have abortions.”
Tim Tebow has kept a low profile during the controversy, but he did defend his decision to participate: “I mean, some people won’t agree with it, you know, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe…That’s the reason why I’m here because my mom is a very courageous woman.”
Others, such as Staci Fox of Planned Parenthood, sought to frame the debate in terms of the cost expenditure: “I do think that it is a shame that Focus on the Family is spending millions of dollars when people around the world and our country need so much help.”
As if abortion isn’t a divisive enough issue, other concerns have entered into the debate. Some question the Tebows’ honesty in recounting their story as Pam Tebow was in the Philippines during her pregnancy – a country where abortion is outlawed. Perhaps more concerning was the CBS decision to air the ad in the first place. In doing so, CBS reversed a long-term policy of refusing to broadcast what it deems as “advocacy” ads. Fair enough. As pro-choice columnist Rachel Sklar wrote in the Huffignton Post: “…we’re a nation of grownups, and it’s 2010. We can handle it, right?”
Yes, I think we can handle it. It seems to me that the root of the story the Tebows will be telling is about choice. Some will argue that Focus on the Family very deliberately and perhaps cynically chose the Tebows as ambassadors for their message. That may well be true, but I fail to see how sharing one family’s very personal story is an “insult” to women. Again, we are adults, correct? (And if children are watching, it seems to me this commercial has at least the potential to lead to valuable dialogue between parents and children. That’s more than can be said for the endless string of beer ads that will be also be running along the Tebows’ message).
That said, I was disappointed that CBS refused to even consider running a gay dating service commercial during the Superbowl. It doesn’t appear that CBS has a problem with running advertisements with sexual innuendo – they (and all the broadcast networks) do it all the time. So it’s hard to figure out the rationale and since CBS isn’t offering much of an explanation, the logical conclusion appears to be blatent homophobia; specifically a reluctance to possibly offend a portion of their viewing audience. Understandably, most of us won’t lose sleep because a gay dating service is being aced out of the Superbowl, however, this isn’t the first time CBS has refused to air an advertisement with a pro-gay rights message.
To sum up my feelings on the matter, I quote futher from Ms. Sklar in the Huffington Post article:
“You can’t hold yourself out as the moral guardian of the people (no gay ads! We have standards!) and the guardian of free speech (hi, Mrs. Tebow!). You can’t have it both ways — you really gotta pick.
I know, I know. Some decisions are hard. But that’s what choice is all about.”