One nation, under football

Q: The conservative Christian group Focus on the Family is sponsoring a pro-life ad, featuring football star Tim Tebow, during … Continued

Q: The conservative Christian group Focus on the Family is sponsoring a pro-life ad, featuring football star Tim Tebow, during Sunday’s Super Bowl. Should CBS show the ad? Should CBS allow other faith-based groups to buy Super Bowl ads promoting their beliefs on social issues? Is a major sporting event, or a TV ad campaign, an appropriate venue for discussing such vital and divisive culture-war issues like abortion?

Here’s my hypothesis: Focus on the Family wants CBS to turn down its request for a Super Bowl ad. Then the ad not paid for or aired at the Super Bowl would be aired free and endlessly on conservative TV shows. Not only would the Family both have and eat its considerably large cake, but it would also Focus on this country’s so-called discrimination against evangelical Christians. It would also relieve the Family of trying to justify to 8% of its employees why it was God’s will to terminate them, and instead Focus on an expensive TV ad. (Though Family employees are down 38% since 2002, I can’t feel too sorry for a Family whose budget of “only” $138 million is considerably more than the combined budgets of the dozen or so advocacy groups I support.)

Here’s my dilemma. I favor just about everything Focus on the Family opposes: abortion rights, gay rights, separation of church and state, and much more. So should I want them to pay for an ad I don’t think they really want to pay for? My answer, of course, should be independent of what I think of the organization. I’m disappointed that CBS ended the policy of networks refusing to run advocacy ads during the Super Bowl, perhaps America’s leading secular ritual. I’m especially disappointed at the current trend of mixing sports and religion, both on and off the field.

Here’s my other dilemma. I support free speech and don’t like to see ads censored. I would still prefer no advocacy ads. But if CBS allows the Focus ad, it should allow controversial ads with opposing messages. Perhaps Super Bowl commercials will evolve from arguments about “Tastes great! No, less filling!” to “Jesus is Lord! No, Jesus is myth!” I’ve participated in debates on the latter topic, but there’s a time and place for such discussions. The Super Bowl is neither the time nor the place.

I can’t blame Tim Tebow, an athlete who wears his religion on his sleeve, or, more accurately, on his face. Evangelical parents raised him, and he believes he’s obliged to use his fame to spread his beliefs. I don’t think the NCAA, or a public institution like the University of Florida, should have allowed him to play football with Jesus eye patches along with inscribed biblical verse numbers. Unless, of course, other players could promote their worldviews during the game. Examples: There are no gods; there is no god but Allah. I doubt such other forms of proselytizing would be allowed.

Sporting events are a time to put aside our usual differences and enjoy shared experiences. Sunday should be a time for whites, blacks, Christians, Jews, atheists, gays, and straights from Indianapolis to stand together and root for a different outcome than those whites, blacks, Christians, Jews, atheists, gays, and straights from New Orleans. May the better team win, not the better race, color or creed.

Herb Silverman
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  • dangeroustalk

    Advertising during the Super Bowl costs millions of dollars, far more than advertising on any other programs. So if a group or company really wants to get their message out (and who doesn’t) the Super Bowl would be the place to do it. However, most companies can’t afford to advertise during the Super Bowl and few non-profit groups have that kind of money to throw around.You can read the rest of my response to this topic: I will be responding to every issue posted in the ‘On Faith’ section. If you would like to be notified when my new response is up, please subscribe.

  • iconoclast8

    Professor Silverman rings the super bell here in positing the probable tactic behind Focus on the Family – throw it out there, get everyone yammering about it, CBS returns the check, Timmy’s missive plays ad nauseum (I have a weak stomach for supernaturalism), America blathers on for a week or two…But, how about others using the face as signage for other messages? Who’ll be the first young athlete to paste “Reason and Rationalism” across his zygomata? Any takers?

  • DAN46

    I’m still puzzled that CBS is accpeting the Tebow ad but not allowing a gay dating service to advertise. Seems discriminatory to me. Is CBS afraid of the religious right?

  • jonesm2

    I agree with Professor Silverman in that sports should be free from advocacy by any group. I also would love to see Focus on the Family have to shell out some dollars to post their ad and I hate to see them get political mileage out of their ad being censored. Tough call. I call “illegal procedure” on Focus on the Family – 15 yard penalty.

  • WmarkW

    CBS’ choice reflects the demographics of football. Its top audiences, and sources of players, are African-Americans and Southerners, both of which believe in the most closed-minded forms of Christianity, even though they express it through opposite politics.

  • fhay18

    The Tim Tebow ad is another example of the public display of religion at a non religious event, and it is being sanctioned by CBS and the NFL. Could this be related to the “creeping theocracy” mentioned by Dr. Silverman last week? I feel put upon.

  • TomMelchiorre

    A religious ad on TV primetime? You see it all the time on cable. This venue isn’t really any different. And if an atheist group could afford it, then it’s fair game, with the same results if it’s not allowed to air. At the same time, American Atheists has a press release saying it will pay to have the stadium renamed, for one hour, the American Atheists Stadium. If football is America’s religion, it would be most interesting to see that banner on the stadium.

  • fhay26

    I think that Focus on the Family has a right to run an ad and Tebow has a right to appear in it. I just wish that the religious types would conform with Jesus’ request, “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret—-” (Matthew 6: 5 & 6, New Revised Standard Version).

  • pelicanwatchcb

    Herb Silverman gets it right again. A lot of dilemma and dissonance for me here, but at the end of the day, it comes down to the Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rules. Focus on the Family has deep pockets and CBS is a financially troubled “legacy” medium. This was a marriage of convenience which both parties probably find distasteful.

  • LorettaHaskell

    Super Bowl Ads are expensive! I favor free speech too and think it would be very interesting to see where a Focus on the Family ad might lead in terms of national discussion…I might even tune into the Super Bowl to see it!

  • WisemanD1

    Focus on the Family members and all of the self-abacinated, sanctimonious right-wing ideologues can have their edible, unleavened, eucharistic cake and perhaps have Sarah Palin sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl and have Chief-Injustice John Roberts offer the prayful benediction for heavenly blessings upon all, especially upon the beleaguered corporative executives in the posh sky-box suites. Are all the London bookies supraprelapsarians? If so, I am placing my Pascalian wager with Professor Silverman on the football game. He is a mathematician who is recognized as an aleatory wizard.

  • Utahreb

    Confession – I flipped back and forth between the Super Bowl and the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet and have to admit that I enjoyed the Puppy Bowl much more than the minutes of football in between the many, many commercials. And I love football and was rooting for the Saints, too.Have to admit that another reason I went back and forth is that I did not – and do not – think the Tebow ad or any other “social” ad belongs in a sports venue. We get enough of the politics, religion, etc. on a daily basis and to me sports are a way of getting away from all that stuff.BTW – it was not mentioned that abortion was against the law in the Phillipines in 1987 so if Pam Tebow had an abortion there, both she and the physician would have been charged with a crime and possibly jailed. So that was her choice – which included possible jail time.