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Thoughts on the Super Bowl and Controversial Commercials

January 26, 2010

Focus on the Family is planning to run an anti-abortion advertisement during Super Bowl XLIV. The ad will feature football player Tim Tebow and his mother, Pam, discussing Pam’s decision not to abort Tim even after learning that carrying her pregnancy to term could result in serious medical problems. Already, a petition has been started to ask CBS to stop the ad from airing during the Super Bowl. While this issue is certainly interesting on its own, what fascinates me the most is what this ad represents in terms of future commercial broadcasting possibilities.

Regardless of how one feels about this ad being broadcast (let alone how one feels about abortion), there is no denying that CBS has adopted a hypocritical stance. In 2004, CBS prevented an ad for the United Church of Christ from airing during the Super Bowl, citing their policy of “prohibiting advocacy ads, even ones that carry an ‘implicit’ endorsement for a side in a public debate.” Moreover, in recent years, the network has also rejected ads by PETA and from broadcasting during the Super Bowl while instead airing ads with homophobic and sexist messages. It is in this context that we consider CBS’ decision to air Focus on the Family’s anti-choice ad during this year’s Super Bowl. This alone should be sufficient reason to demand that CBS pull the ad.

But I don’t think it’s that simple.

Personally, as a woman who believes in choice, I would not like to see an anti-choice ad by Focus on the Family air during the Super Bowl, primarily because abortion has absolutely nothing to do with football. However, because I am a woman who believes in choice, I am wary of the idea of asking CBS to choose not to run an ad that, for whatever reason, it finds worthy of Super Bowl airtime. After all, choice is about all choices. As much as seeing an anti-abortion ad during the Super Bowl would personally offend me, I do not believe in censoring the voice of other choices.

Instead of asking CBS to stay true to its policy of “prohibiting advocacy ads,” I would much rather use this as an opportunity to ask CBS to formally change its policy and run more advocacy ads. Given the millions of viewers who tune in to watch the game each year, the Super Bowl is an incredibly powerful venue to make a political or social statement about any issue. How awesome would it be to turn on CBS on February 7th and see ads in support of health care reform and marriage equality? Those are the sorts of ads that have been rejected by the network in the past, but with Focus on the Family now setting a new precedent, it is time to spend our energy pushing for those ads again, rather than pulling all ads with which we disagree. If Focus on the Family’s ad does ultimately air, CBS will no longer be able to hide behind its policy of “prohibiting advocacy ads.” On the contrary, it will open the door for so many more organizations to seek air time, from all political angles and agendas. If Focus on the Family’s ad airs as planned, it could actually create more opportunities for pro-choice and other progressive organizations.

Choice is about options. It’s about letting all voices be heard, regardless of whether one agrees with them or not. With this in mind, I would much rather see an inclusive Super Bowl broadcast, featuring everything from Focus on the Family to the National Organization for Women, than a Super Bowl with ads exclusively for beer, candy bars and action movies. The idea of using Super Bowl air time to promote social awareness and debate rather than consumerism is really quite appealing. I just hope CBS is able to walk away from this situation having learned the right lesson.

  1. sara permalink
    January 26, 2010 12:52 pm

    this is the most intelligent article/opinion i’ve read on this topic. i whole-heartedly agree. it’s not running a pro-life spot that’s wrong (even if, as a pro-choice woman, i disagree with the message of that spot). it’s the policy of not airing spots that have a strong opinion on a controversial issue.
    i wish that everyone involved in this fight could be as level-headed and mature as this author.

  2. January 29, 2010 5:25 pm

    Unfortunately, CBS has now decided not to air an ad for a gay dating site as well as another ad for Go Daddy which features an effeminate man (pretty unbelievable that that’s what it takes for them to reject a Go Daddy ad)

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