It’s been a while since there was anything controversial about the commercials aired during the Super Bowl. But this year promises to be different.
Even if you don’t follow college football, you have probably heard the name Tim Tebow. Star quarterback for the University of Florida, Tebow is the first player ever to win the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore and the first to both rush and pass for 20 touchdowns in a season.
Now set to enter the NFL draft this spring and begin his professional career, Tebow has made an unusual choice. He has agreed to star in a Super Bowl ad sponsored by conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. The ad tells the story of Pam Tebow (Tim’s mother)’s difficult pregnancy, during which she was advised by doctors to have an abortion to protect her own health. She refused, and gave birth to Tim.
There are two interesting aspects to this ad. First is the fact that nobody can remember a political issue ad such as this airing during the Super Bowl before. CBS – the network carrying the game this year – used to have a longstanding policy against “controversial” ads, but they have since loosened their rules. Except during a Presidential primary year, there’s rarely anything big going on politically when the Super Bowl is played, so there’s little incentive to spend the megabucks to pay for such an ad. Needless to say, pro-choice groups are lobbying CBS to kill the ad; surprisingly, CBS appears to be standing firm for the moment.
The second question is whether this is a good decision by Tebow. Well known at school as a devout Christian, no one doubts the sincerity of his motivation. But the NFL tries hard to avoid political controversy. Tebow and whatever team he ends up playing for will want fans to be eager to buy a Tebow jersey regardless of their political views. If taking a strong stand on this issue alienates half the fan base, that will cost Tebow and the NFL real money. I could even imagine certain teams rating Tebow lower on their draft boards over something like this.
Of course Tebow should not have to forego the right to speak his views simply because he plays football. There are many, many NFL players who are pro-life and also quite public about their Christian faith. But there is a difference between answering questions honestly – like beauty pageant contestant Carrie Prejean did – and going out of your way to shove your views in everyone’s face, like Barbra Streisand. Focus on the Family and its leader James Dobson have been particularly prone to controversy in the past. Choosing to associate yourself with them for your first foray into politics is like choosing to associate with Al Sharpton for your first foray into civil rights.
What do you think? Is it a good idea to have these kinds of ads during the Super Bowl? Is Tebow doing the right thing by speaking out?