Fans should focus on football


' The NFC Champion New Orleans Saints and the AFC Champion Indianapolis Colts will meet on Feb. 7 in Miami's Sun Life Stadium in Super Bowl XLIV. But the battle on the gridiron will not be the only one America's football fans witness during this year's championship event. An ideological clash is brewing, as well. As has become the norm, millions of viewers will tune in not just to watch the football game, but also the commercials. This year, however, among the cleverly-written Budweiser ads, celebrity-filled Doritos spots and buzz-generating movie promos, the television audience will also see a political message produced by Focus on the Family, an evangelical nonprofit organization based in Colorado Springs.

According to a Focus on the Family spokesman, the 30 sec. ad revolves around the theme 'Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life.' The spot is expected to make a case against abortion rights and features star University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother Pam, both of whom are devout Christians. According to reports, the spot, which will cost up to $2.8 million to air, depicts Pam Tebow recalling her 1987 pregnancy with Tim, during which she was working as a missionary in the Philippines with her husband Bob. Complications arose when she contracted amoebic dysentery and was told by doctors to have an abortion because of the negative effects the medications she was given were likely to have on her developing fetus. Pam ignored the doctors' recommendations and later gave birth to a healthy baby, Tim, who would go on to win the 2007 Heisman Trophy and lead his Florida Gators to two BCS National Championships. Since he entered the national spotlight, Tebow has made no secret of his family's strong Christian background and the influence it has had on all aspects of his life. Indeed, the presumed high-round NFL draft choice has become nearly as well-known for sporting bible passages on his eye black and thanking God during his post game interviews, as he is for his athletic prowess.

While Focus on the Family's advertisement - which was approved to be aired during the Super Bowl by CBS last week - may certainly be an inspiring story of a woman sticking to her ethical convictions and overcoming the odds aligned against the well-being of her child, I contend that a Super Bowl commercial break is simply not an appropriate venue for the discussion of such a controversial topic. I would expect that the vast majority of viewers, regardless of their political convictions, simply want to spend their Super Sunday enjoying an exciting football game with their friends and family, rather than being faced with messages asserting the moral superiority of one policy position or another. While speaking to reporters Sunday in Mobile, Ala., Tebow said, 'I know some people won't agree with it, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe. I've always been very convicted of [my views on abortion] because that's the reason I'm here - because my mom was a very courageous woman. So any way that I could help [communicate that message], I would do it.' I have no problem with Tebow freely expressing his beliefs regarding abortion - public figures have as much right to articulate their political convictions as the rest of us. However, I must reiterate that a Super Bowl commercial break is simply not the time or place for him to do so. CBS's viewers do not want to hear about Tebow's position on abortion any more than they would want to hear about Chad Ochocinco's feelings on health care reform, Kurt Warner's stance on gay marriage or John Madden's opinions on gun control.

There are numerous precedents for overtly political ads being rejected by national networks as unfit for air. Last year, a similar controversy arose when the Chicago-based Catholic organization Fidelis sought to air an anti-abortion ad during the Super Bowl, which depicted President Barack Obama as an unborn child facing an array of bleak circumstances which some contend would have justified his abortion. The ad was ultimately rejected by NBC as too controversial. CBS refused to air a spot during the 2004 Super Bowl from the United Church of Christ, which communicated the organization's acceptance of gays and others who may be shunned by more conservative denominations of Christianity. The Women's Media Center, with the support of the National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority Foundation, has submitted a letter to the NFL and CBS requesting that the ad not be aired. It reads, in part, 'CBS has a well-documented history of prohibiting advocacy ads it deems controversial, rejecting ads from organizations such as PETA, MoveOn.org, United Church of Christ, and even ones that carry only an 'implicit' endorsement for a side in a public debate 'hellip; CBS executives have indicated in the past that they would not air Super Bowl ads where 'substantial elements of the community [are] in opposition to one another.' As it unambiguously promotes a conservative view of abortion, Focus on the Family's spot fits the network's description of unfit ads exactly. In light of this, CBS should heed the complaints of those who oppose the ad and refuse to air it on Super Sunday. The debate over abortion has continued for decades, surely it can be temporarily suspended until after the Vince Lombardi Trophy is presented.

Josh Baker is a Rutgers College senior majoring in sociology and minoring in psychology and philosophy.


Josh Baker

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