Keep Politics Off the Gridiron

The term “Super Bowl commercial” evokes images of gut-busting or witty commercials from companies such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Doritos and other stereotypically all-American brands. Perhaps the term even evokes memories of the titillating GoDaddy.com commercials. It does not, however, bring advocacy advertisements to mind.

This is about to change. For the first time, CBS is reversing its ban on advocacy commercials during the Super Bowl. This Sunday, an ad by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family will feature Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow speaking out against abortion. The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback is no stranger to proclaiming his faith – he often writes Bible verses on his game-day eye black. This ad, however, is a rather bold and controversial stand, especially at a time when he is hoping to pursue a career in the NFL.

Focus on the Family is an organization founded by Dr. James Dobson and based in Colorado that seeks to promote the importance of the role of the nuclear family. According to their Web site, the “purpose of the ministry is to strengthen, defend and celebrate the institution of the traditional family.” Their slogan states that they “help families thrive.” Part of their mission to preserve the traditional family is to actively speak out against abortion, among other issues. The 30-second ad is estimated to cost the organization between $2.5 and $2.8 million. Jim Daly, the President and CEO of Focus on the Family, claims that the funds were donated by “very generous and committed friends” and states in a Huffington Post interview that the ad comes at a time when “families need to be inspired.”

According to the Huffington Post, the advertisement will feature Tebow and his mother, Pam Tebow. It will focus on her 1987 pregnancy during which she fell ill in the Philippines and the doctors recommended a medical abortion. Pam Tebow chose not to have an abortion, and instead gave birth to her son, who turned out to become a college football star.  Some, however, have called the advertisement’s credibility into question. Abortion has been illegal since 1930 in the Philippines, and it is unlikely that doctors would have recommended the procedure, which is punishable with up to six years in prison.

The ads already prove to be divisive, even before their appearance on the most widely viewed television day of the year. Abortion rights groups are calling for the removal of the ads, calling them “anti-quality” and “anti-woman” according to an article in the Christian Science Monitor. However, there is also controversy over the “Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life” ads appearing during the historically apolitical American tradition of Super Sunday.

The controversy doesn’t stop there. CBS rejected a proposed Super Bowl ad from gay dating website ManCrunch.com this year, stating that the content of the ad was not within the “broadcast standards” of the network. While the ad was essentially harmless, it was apparently too much for CBS. This adds another layer to the situation, and has prompted some to wonder why abortion would be appropriate subject matter if the ManCrunch ad was inappropriate.

Perhaps a politically charged ad just doesn’t belong on television during the Super Bowl. Americans are bombarded with political ads and ploys day in and day out: health care, the economy, unemployment, terrorism and other social and political issues appear in the headlines every day.  The Super Bowl is an American institution during which the only divisive issue should be whether you are rooting for the Saints or the Colts. Furthermore, the Super Sunday tradition of funny, light-hearted commercials that everyone discusses the next day at work over the water cooler is now in jeopardy. Discussing an advertisement on abortion at work is simply in bad taste and it is sure to offend someone. Doesn’t the American public deserve one event that isn’t wrought with political tension?

This advertisement also raises the issue of opening up the Super Bowl to other politically-infused advertisements. How many people would want to see a PETA ad or Moveon.org advertisement when they are trying to enjoy the Super Bowl? This opens the door for other political or advocacy group advertisements to air during an American tradition of fun, competition and just plain good TV — including commercials.

This is not to say that abortion advocacy or pro-life advocacy advertisements do not have their place in the American public sphere. The topic, though controversial, is an important matter of national concern, as it deals with basic human rights. However, its place is not necessarily during Super Bowl Sunday. For now, though, the American public can expect the controversial ad to air during the Super Bowl — along with those GoDaddy.com commercials, of course.

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