This particular thirty-second timeslot cost a reported $2.3 million, and it may be the least expensive advertisement in history. At center stage is a football player not even in the NFL, yet furor surrounds superstar college quarterback Tim Tebow and the fact that his mother did not abort him.
I write seven days out from the most watched sporting event on American television, the annual Super Bowl. The game, mostly an excuse for afternoon parties saturated with Miller Lite and chips, is often ancillary to the event itself. For the non-fan, the Super Bowl is not mainly about football. Instead, it is mostly remembered for the rock band that plays at halftime (will there be another wardrobe malfunction?) and, of course, those expensive and often racy commercials. Time and again advertisers trip over one another to push the envelope of acceptability. I’m told the loud, raucous parties grow quiet when the commercials come on. But this year the focus and the furor are not over the amount of skin to be revealed, but rather over Pam Tebow’s choice to give birth to her son.
Focus on the Family has used specifically-designated donations for a thirty-second ad that tells of Tebow’s mother who, pregnant with her fifth child, was serving as a missionary in the Philippines. Pam caught a severe case of amoebic dysentery and fell into a coma. Her treatment required medications strong enough to affect the baby. Told that the damage to her child would be irreversible, Pam was advised to abort her baby. Because of her Christian convictions about the value of all life, Pam refused the abortion and spent two months in bed. In August 1987, the future Heisman Trophy winner was born. Does an advertisement that tells this story sound controversial?
The mere possibility that this thirty-second commercial would be aired elicited protests from predictable places. The National Organization for Women and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) petitioned CBS to yank the ad. The Women’s Media Center, which speaks for a collection of abortion-rights groups, sent a letter to CBS arguing that the Focus on the Family spot uses one family’s story to dictate morality to the American public and encourages young women to disregard medical advice, putting their lives at risk. Pro-choice attorney Gloria Allred went so far to say that Pam Tebow made up her story, and Allred has threatened to file a formal complaint of misleading advertising with the Federal Communication Commission.
In a sense, all of the above is predictable and business as usual. What is unusual is the backlash from those generally inclined to either defend abortion rights with vigor (The New York Times) or quietly censor pro-life messages by refusing to air pro-life advertisements (the major television networks). Wonders never cease! On January 31, the Times, a consistent and vigorous defender of abortion rights, ran an op-ed piece defending the CBS decision to air the ad saying of NOW, NARAL, and others, Their protest is puzzling and dismaying. The Times went further and called the protest by the Women’s Media Center a lame attempt to portray the ad as life-threatening.
Then there is the editorial decision of CBS. Last year Fidelis, a pro-life Roman Catholic organization, produced a spot for the Super Bowl showing a beautiful in utero baby and asked the question, What if Barack Obama had been a victim of abortion? NBC refused to show the advertisement. This year, the Focus ad, admittedly less controversial, has the endorsement of CBS. Clearly, as Bob Dylan crooned in the 1960s, the times, they are a-changin’. . .
The elephant in the room, of course, is Tim Tebow himself. The Women’s Media Center says the ad is life threatening, but what about Tim? Was his life not threatened by a doctor’s advice? And, while we’re at it, doesn’t the abortion industry in our country alone threaten and end the lives of over a million children every year?
Until mid-April when the NFL draft takes place, Tim is just another college football player hoping to make it in the pros. But the homeschooled son of missionary parents has his convictions. He told the Orlando Sentinel last week, I definitely didn’t think [the ad] would have this much hype. It’s something I believe in and I’ll stand up for. When asked if he thought the hoopla surrounding the advertisement would hurt his NFL chances, he said, I think if anything, they like that I took a stand for what I believe. If they don’t, if that’s something that would make them hesitate to bring me on, then it probably wouldn’t be a good fit for me in the first place. I’m never going to deny what I believe just for a game.
By the time you read this, the Super Bowl will have been played and its outcome determined. Focus on the Family will be $2.3 million poorer, and television viewers will have seen the ultimate pro-life argument: a living human being. Tim Tebow stands tall with football statistics that make other quarterbacks green with envy.
One more thing. The tagline of the controversial ad is Celebrating Family, Celebrating Life. Amen!