Tebow defends Super Bowl ad amid growing criticism
Published: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 12:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 12:33 p.m.
Former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is taking some hits for appearing with his mother in a Super Bowl advertisement expected to convey an anti-abortion message.
A coalition of women's groups has called on CBS to scrap plans for the ad, while critics question whether Tebow is inviting a backlash as he attempts to enter the National Football League. But at least one sports agent said that, while athletes typically avoid religion and politics to protect their marketability, Tebow might be a special case.
"He will be getting endorsements before he even touches the ball,"said Darren Heitner, a UF law student and founder/CEO of Dynasty Athlete Representation.
The conservative Christian group Focus on the Family is paying for the ad, which is expected to recount Pam Tebow's decision to ignore doctor recommendations to abort Tim. A coalition that includes the the National Organization for Women sent a letter to CBS questioning why the network is allowing the ad while previously rejecting other ads it deemed controversial.
"We don't need a Christian fundamentalist athlete lecturing other people about his beliefs," said Jodi Jacobson, editor-and-chief of RH Reality Check, an online publication supporting reproductive rights and part of the coalition.
Following the furor over the ad, CBS announced Wednesday it eased its restrictions on advocacy ads and would consider any that are "responsibly produced" for the few open spots remaining for the Feb. 7 broadcast. CBS reported it received both critical and supportive e-mails since the coalition began its protest campaign Monday.
Focus on the Family announced last week that the commercial will share a personal story from the Tebows centered on the theme of "Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life." The group has declined to provide specific details about the ad, but speculation has centered on the story of Tebow's birth.
After getting seriously ill during a mission trip to the Philippines, Pam Tebow ignored a recommendation by doctors to have an abortion and ended up giving birth. Tim Tebow himself said the story was the reason that he decided to participate in the ad.
"That's the reason I'm here, because my mom is a really courageous woman," he said Monday.
Tom Krattenmaker, author of the book "Onward Christian Athletes," questioned whether the ad's focus on the "miraculous birth narrative" might turn off even Christians for being idolatrous. Krattenmaker, whose book is critical of mixing religion and sports, said Tebow is moving beyond simply espousing his faith to being a flash point in the culture wars.
"He's either naive or incredibly gutsy and principled," Krattenmaker said. "I expect there's some of both."
Heitner, whose sports agency represents professional baseball players and other athletes, said Tebow's display of Bible verses in his eye black means most people already associate him with his religious beliefs. Even fans who support abortion rights might respect him for standing up for his beliefs, he said, so he doesn't see the ad costing him endorsements.
"In the end, I don't he takes any hit whatsoever doing something he believes in," he said.
Focus on the Family has said donations are being used to buy the 30-second spot, which typically costs between $2.5 million to $2.8 million. Group spokesman Gary Schneeberger said he and his colleagues "were a little surprised" at the furor over the ad.
"There's nothing political and controversial about it," he said. "When the day arrives, and you sit down to watch the game on TV, those who oppose it will be quite surprised at what the ad is all about."
In its letter to CBS, the coalition of women's groups said the network was aligning itself with an "anti-equality, anti-choice, homophobic organization" by airing the ad. The letter referred to CBS' history of prohibiting advocacy ads that it deems controversial, such as ads from groups such as PETA, MoveOn.org and the United Church of Christ.
As for Tebow, he first addressed controversy over the ad Sunday while meeting with reporters in Mobile, Ala., before preparing for this weekend's Senior Bowl. He said he has deep convictions on the abortion issue because of his mother's story.
"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," he said.
Staff writer Robbie Andreu and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/nathancrabbe.
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