Focus on the Family’s Super Bowl ad featuring Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and his mother Pam won’t air until Feb. 7, but it’s already created plenty of buzz and even controversy.
The subject of the ad won’t be known until it is aired – the Colorado organization is only saying the theme will be “celebrate family, celebrate life” – but several pro-choice groups are assuming it will focus on the issue of abortion and are urging CBS to pull the ad.
On the flip side, fans of the former Florida Gator quarterback as well as Christians who align with the conservative beliefs of Focus on the Family are excited about the ad, even if they, too, are in the dark as to the specific topic.
It is common for an ad to be unveiled during the Super Bowl.
Speculation that it will touch on pro-life themes centers on the fact that Pam Tebow, when pregnant with her fifth child – who turned out to be Tim – was urged by a doctor to have an abortion. She was living in the Philippines with her family at the time and had a life-threatening infection from a pathogenic amoeba. She opted to keep the baby. The stirring story has been told previously on a national stage –- during the Heisman Trophy presentation – but that TV audience pales in comparison to the 90-100 million who will tune in to watch Super Bowl XLIV between the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints.
Gary Schneeberger, vice president of media relations for Focus on the Family, told Baptist Press there’s a good reason the family-help organization is not releasing the transcript of the ad.
“It’s not like we’re trying to be coy,” Schneeberger said. “We really want it to stand out, because we do believe it’s a very inspirational message. Anything that’s said in advance that tells exactly what it’s about takes away from what we hope is the simple power of what the ad does.”
He added, “The Tebows are a very outspoken Christian family and they have many stories that we think are inspiring to families today. What Pam Tebow and Tim do is, as much as they can in that 30-second window, they tell some highlights from one of those personal stories.”
Despite the pressure on CBS from a few liberal groups, the network is comfortable with the ad, Schneeberger said.
“We’ve been working with them for months,” he said. “They’ve seen the script, they’ve approved the script and they know full well who Focus on the Family is and what we stand for. They know that some people are ideologically not aligned with some of the things that we believe. They know all that, and we have a contract with them. There’s been no hurdles up to this point and we don’t expect there will be.”
Focus on the Family actually will run at least two ads on Feb. 7 – at least one during the pregame and at least one during the game itself, Schneeberger said. It is not known how much Focus on the Family paid for the ads – the organization isn’t saying and CBS doesn’t release prices publicly – but by some estimates a 30-second ad airing during the game costs around $2.5 million. Schneeberger said all of the money for the ad came from some “very generous” donors who gave to the organization “specifically” to see the ad aired. None of the money came from the organization’s general fund, he added.
The idea for the ad, Schneeberger said, came from someone in the Focus on the Family film department who also happens to be a Florida Gator fan.
The National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority Foundation have joined with the Women’s Media Center to ask CBS to kill the ad. The groups call Focus on the Family “an anti-equality, anti-choice, homophobic organization” and in a statement urge CBS to pull the ad because the network – and other networks – has refused to broadcast various controversial ads in the past.
Last year NBC chose not to air a pro-life ad from CatholicVote.org that showed an ultrasound of a baby in the womb and recounted how a child who came from a broken home and was abandoned by his father grew up to become the nation’s first African American president. NBC also turned down an ad by the animal rights group PETA, but that reportedly was because PETA chose not to tone down the explicit sexual nature of the ad.
CBSSports.com columnist Gregg Doyel criticized the possibility of a pro-life ad, writing, “If you’re a sports fan, and I am, that’s the holiest day of the year. That’s a day for five hours of football pregame shows and four hours of football game and three hours of postgame football analysis.
That’s a day for football addicts to gorge themselves to the gills on football. It’s not a day to discuss abortion.”
But Roy Exum, a longtime sportswriter in Chattanooga, Tenn., supported the ad, writing at Chattanoogan.com, “[T]he Super Bowl will give [Tebow] more exposure than he’s ever had at one time. Imagine, between 90 and 100 million people watching a kid who wasn’t expected to even be born alive but who instead became the greatest college football player the world has ever known. How about that!”
ESPN audiences have heard the story before, beginning in 2007 when Tebow won the Heisman, and – during a video before he was presented the award –- Pam Tebow told the story of nearly dying when she was pregnant. She and her husband Bob were and still are missionaries to the Philippines.
“I was very dehydrated, very sick,” she said then. “When I went to the doctor where we lived, she advised me that I needed to have an abortion.”
Said Bob Tebow on the video, “We already had four children and I just prayed, I said, ‘God if you want another preacher in this world, give him to me and I’ll raise him.'”
On Monday Tim Tebow acknowledged the controversy, saying about the ad, “Some people won’t agree with it, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe.” Referencing his mother’s decision not to have an abortion, he added, “That’s the reason why I’m here because my mom is a very courageous woman.”
Focus on the Family’s Schneeberger, while not addressing the speculation about the ad’s content, said the fact that the ad is coming from a nonprofit organization will stand out.
“We’re not trying to sell the American people a car,” he said. “We’re not trying to sell them a soft drink. We’re not trying to sell anything. We’re celebrating families and we’re hoping to inspire families and we’re hoping to let families know that in moments of crisis, Focus on the Family is the organization that you can come to.”
Ironically, some of the very churches and families that support Focus on the Family’s mission sometimes flip the channels during Super Bowl commercials because of what can be sexually charged content.
“What better time to reach out to families with an inspiring message?” Schneeberger asked. “This probably is the No. 1 television family event of the year. We want to be there because we recognize there is some family-unfriendly advertising that’s going on and we believe that our ad will stand out in offering a completely different kind of message.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.