Tim Tebow and CBS: United Against “Choice”

In our 5,000-channel, tweeting, shouting culture of constant distraction, there are precious few annual events that unite the national gaze. In fact, there is really only one: the Super Bowl. Over the last two decades, ratings for everything from the World Series to the Olympics have stumbled - but the NFL championship gets stronger with age, with Super Bowl Sunday becoming a de facto national holiday. The cultural power of the big game cannot be overstated, and that's exactly why CBS' decision to air an anti-abortion ad funded by Focus on the Family was so terribly wrongheaded.


The ad features Heisman award-winning Florida quarterback and staunch evangelical Christian Tim Tebow alongside his mother, Pam, speaking out against abortion. Pam tells the world how she ignored a doctor's advice while on a missionary trip in the Philippines and decided to have her fifth child, Tim. She was suffering from a serious tropical illness, the story goes, and doctors thought that having the child would kill her, but she "chose life" for her child and the result is an All-American quarterback.


There is something sketchy about this story - given that abortion is illegal in the Philippines, carrying a six-year prison sentence. It seems highly unlikely the procedure would be recommended to an evangelical missionary. But this isn't about truth in advertising. It's about Tim Tebow continuing his self-proclaimed goal to use football as a "missionary." After a college career wearing eyeblack with Bible verses stenciled in, it's the next step in raising his platform as the most outspoken evangelical this side of Sarah Palin.


To be clear, we should absolutely support Tebow's right to state his political beliefs loudly and proudly and we should soundly reject the concept that jocks should just "shut up and play."


But there are other things we should soundly reject as well. We should reject the utter hypocrisy on display by CBS in airing this ad. The network has long stated that it has Super Bowl rules against "advocacy ads." In 2004, the network rejected a Super Bowl ad from the United Church of Christ in which a church is shown opening its doors to a gay couple. The network has also refused ads from PETA, MoveOn.org and many others. This year, it even rejected a humorous commercial from a gay dating site called mancrunch.com. And yet, the network takes money from Focus on the Family - which, according to People for the American Way, is "anti-choice, anti-gay and against sex education curricula that are not strictly abstinence-only."


 Focus on the Family's guru is the infamous and recently retired James Dobson. Dobson is a frightening fellow, choosing the second night of Passover last year to say, "The biggest Holocaust in world history came out of the Supreme Court" with Roe vs. Wade. Dobson's other pet project, the Family Research Council, has connections to white supremacist organizations like the Council of Conservative Citizens. In 1996, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins paid former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,000 for his mailing list.


The idea that this organization is acceptable to CBS - while MoveOn or PETA or the United Church of Christ are too radical - actually adds up to a right-wing assault on free speech. We could also point out the irony that this year, like all others, ads for the U.S. armed forces will be omnipresent, but that's not considered advocacy, either. I doubt there would be equal time for Iraq Veterans Against the War, even if it could pony up the millions.


The other thing we need to reject is the sports media's love affair with Tim Tebow's "courage" in being a part of this ad. People like CBS' Jim Nantz and Sports Illustrated's Peter King are like tweens at a Justin Bieber concert when it comes to Tebow, with King recently writing, "What I heard from Tebow was the voice of a kid with convictions, who doesn't shrink from what he believes - even if it might hurt his draft prospects."


Wrong: The fact that Tebow has massive accuracy problems and can't take a snap from center without fumbling is what is going to hurt his draft prospects.


Moreover, it rankles that Tebow is being extolled for his courage while athletes who have spoken out against militarism (Carlos Delgado and most famously Muhammad Ali) or racism (Josh Howard) are called crazy and tiresome.


Let's hope that the next time an athlete speaks out - even if it's in the service of a left-wing cause - the media remember their praise of Tebow and cut him or her some slack. And let's hope that the next time CBS gets an ad query from a group with an agenda diametrically opposed to Focus on the Family's, it gives it equal time.


Hosting the Super Bowl ought to be considered a privilege. And CBS has already failed the test.




[Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) Receive his column every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.]

17 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Another good one, Dave

While CBS has every right to accept or reject money from advertisers, their hypocrisy and breaking of their own rules is sickening.


Dave, thanks for the article

As the Good Book says:"they" have their reward

- and the Tebows can choke on it.
(Matthew, chapter 6 (all of it))

As for Tebow and the NFL - there are countless other Heisman Trophy winners who couldn't cut the mustard in the pros. He certainly will not be the first or the last one.

The real villain

As annoying as the Tebows are, they are nothing compared to CBS. The Tebows would hardly be the first pro-lifers to pat themselves on the back for making a CHOICE they would happily deny others. But CBS Sports way out of line. They repeatedly denied liberal groups air time in the big game and instead giving America one more beer/soda/b-movie/car ad. But now to turn around and allow this sexist and homophobic advocacy group to run this drivel is too much. I guess we should have expected as much from the network that wallows in the sexist tradition like no others: the Masters.
Liberal media my ---

your response to Jemele Hill

I have always appreciated Jemele Hill's columns but was surprised and taken back by her piece on Tebow. It was a poorly, ahistorically constructed column. As such, I am most appreciative of your response and the manner in which you show the importance of history when such poor comparisons are made. Thank you for a great response.

Tebow Ad is Anti-Woman

Thanks Dave for writing this article and speaking out about this outrageous SuperBowl ad. The fact that Focus on the Family is spending millions of dollars on an anti-choice ad that will play in front of millions of people and that most sportswriters see nothing wrong with this is surely a sign o' the times.
A woman's right to choice - without shame, guilt, or restrictions- has been under attack since we won Roe v. Wade. And this has given pro-life forces more and more confidence (think Dr. Tiller's murder).
I really applaud your response to Jemele Hill, given that she is a respected colleague who is usually on the right side of these kind of things.
Thanks for standing up for my right to control my body!

Thank you for this column.

Focus on the Family is a woman-hating, gay-hating, Constitution-hating organization founded by a man who brags about how hard he beat his dog in order to control him.

Tebow is a freak.

A Compromise?

I'm going to agree with Dave on advocacy ads to a degree. Dave is correct about CBS not being fair with these ads. If you're going to show an anti-abortion ad with Tebow, you should show a PETA ad. My qualm is I really don't want to see the tragedy of Darfur adjacent to a Pepsi Light commercial. If this makes me an ugly American so be it. My solution would be to put all advocacy ads before or after the Super Bowl. As Ecclesiastes states: For everything there is a season,and a time for every matter...(Dave sorry about the bible reference.)

Power of Superbowl Ads

I still remember the Ridley Scott ad for the Mac Computer done over 25 years ago. The ad was only done once and is considered one of the best of all time; people still remember it.

Just as the Superbowl has become a national holiday, it has evolved into a common hearth which gives even more power and import to the ads. Many come and go, but a few become cultural icons and moments imbedded in memory. pointofthegame.blogspot.com

Thanks for the Column

Diane and Racist Moi said it better than I can. I refer you to their responses.

Thanks for the insight

Thank you so much for this article and the insight that you have provided.

Tebow and Co.

With regards to CBS, they can air or not air whatever they want. Unfortunately, we as conscience viewers just have to deal with the hypocrisy. It doesn't matter anyway though; no one is going to boycott the Super Bowl. We're stuck with one choice and all we have is our complaints. It would be interesting, and in my opinion really cool, if the Super Bowl was aired on multiple channels with networks competing against each other for viewership by using funny or advocacy commercials. It would foster creativity and promote business competition.
Changing gears; I currently go to Florida State and extremely enjoy the game of football. Its our (Americas) game and it makes me proud to have such a sporting event uniquely ours. I am by no means a football analyst, but by no means ignorant to what makes good players good. Let me preface my next statement with I am not a Tebow fan. His evangelical agenda and Bible verse decorated face paint annoys me like no other. That coupled with the fact they have been dominating us every year I have been in school doesnt help either. However, dont be so quick to dismiss Tebows potential to be a competitive starting quarterback in the NFL. Hes undoubtedly a good team leader and teammate in general. I dont underestimate his capacity to learn and adapt and he has a work ethic second to none. He competed in the best conference in college football on the biggest stages year after year. When teams brought their best, he matched them. Sure, Tebow cant play in the NFL like he played in college, thats obvious. I think he can adapt faster then people think and given the proper coaching, a little help from supporting players and some time and I think Tebow could consistently lead an NFL team into the playoffs.

Tim and Christianity

I agree with 90% of what you wrote. I respectfully disagree with your first paragraph. Tim may be a "staunch evangelical Christian" but that does a group of Protestant churches that believe in certain practices of worship and in sharing the gospel. It does not define a political point of view or views on social issues including abortion. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Jim Willis (Sojouners Magazine) and many many other people are evangelical Christians who are progressives and hold political or social views that differ from Tebow and Sarah Palin.

Tim and Christianity

I should have typed:

"but that describes a group of Protestant churches..."


Damn Dave, D-now and Maddow in the same 24 hours? You are prolific man, keep up the great advocacy and activism you do for sports, because who else will?


The most disturbing thing out of this little set piece of evilgelical media manipulation lies in the fact that NO ONE, not ONE journalist of whom I'm aware has bothered to check out Pam Tebow's story.

Who was the doctor? What hospital was it? In which Phillipine town? When was the date? Does she have the medical record?

It's not that we don't have the answers to those questions (which, I suspect, would bear Pam Tebow out to be just another mendacious fundamentalist), it's that no one has even asked the questions or even, apparently, feels the need to.

As an aside, it's worth having a look at the Focus on the Fambly website. The thing is chock-a-block with links to the various Tebow family hustles. This has nothing to do with "family" or "christianity." As Abe Vigoda said in "The Godfather, "It's only business."

Tim Tebow:Empty suit Blaine doll for the "religious blight?"


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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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