In 2010, CBS changed its anti-advocacy policy just in time to accept a Super Bowl Sunday ad from the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, with an overtly pro-life message, featuring Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow on the one day this year that renders him conveniently and undeniably relevant.
Although it hasn't aired yet, the 30-second commercial is said to feature Tim Tebow and his mother Pam, as she explains her choice—notice the keyword—not to end her difficult pregnancy in 1987, despite her doctor's advice. Today her son is a healthy, talented, award-winning athlete. And that's truly a happy ending for them.
More than being offensive to women who end their pregnancies for a variety of reasons, the commercial has potentially dangerous message. As Dr. Anne Davis, medical director of Physicians for Reproductive Choice, writes on RHRealityCheck.org, Pam Tebow's experience “doesn't make her an expert on reproductive health, any more than attending a few NFL games makes me an expert on football.... [Focus on the Family] wants to tell the broadest possible audience that women with complicated pregnancies can—and should!—ignore their doctors' advice.”
And in addition to that, politically motivated commercials are simply out of place on Super Bowl Sunday. As CBS' own sports columnist Gregg Doyel explained so eloquently, “All of it offends me. Pro-life, pro-choice... you name it, then please shove the whole conversation into a bad of dirty socks and eject it into outer space. Maybe some satellite for Fox news or MSNBC will bump into it. Fine. Let those people talk about it. But leave my football alone.”
All of these rational arguments, as well as the fact that Tim Tebow isn't even a professional football player yet, apparently means nothing to Focus on the Family. They don't care about logic—only rhetoric. In context, their wholly inappropriate message essentially translates to, “Ladies: In a world where your choices are respected and legal, you might be depriving the Super Bowl of a potential athlete, and that's what really matters.”
Of course, Pam and Tim Tebow have the right to tactlessly evangelize their political and religious beliefs as much as they want. But the recent revelation that CBS and Focus on the Family actually collaborated on the script for the commercial betrays CBS' claim that they just changed their policies because of “industry norms.” It means that the network is deliberately throwing its weight behind a one-sided political agenda, while making a calculated effort to reject ads with opposing views.
To put this in perspective, the 2004 commercial for the United Church of Christ, turned down by CBS at the time for being “too controversial,” showed a gay couple, a young black girl, and a Hispanic man turned away by bouncers outside of a church. The commercial ended with the message, “Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we.” Meanwhile, as conservative news outlet The New American points out, “CBS indicated that under its current policy, the church ad would have made the cut for this year's Super Bowl.” So why did CBS continue turn down commercials with more liberal messages this year, like the humorous ad promoting gay dating website ManCrunch.com, which shows two men watching the Super Bowl—and, okay, making out—together? Is the 90-million-person Super Bowl audience so collectively delicate and naïve as to believe there are no gay athletes or gay sports fans, and needs to be protected from this potentially shocking information?
Perhaps the most troubling significance of all isn't the commercial's content. With the recent Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, corporations are no longer banned from buying advertisements and contributing to political campaigns—so the final and truly disturbing question is, will this Focus on the Family commercial, with its explicit and biased message, eventually become the norm and not the outrageous exception?