Given the outcry over Tim Tebow’s TV ad during the Super Bowl, one would think that the Super Bowl is sacred space.
For those who have missed the latest scrimmage in the American culture war, here’s an overview. A University of Florida football star named Tim Tebow, known for both his remarkable athleticism and displays of Christian faith, will appear on a TV ad during the Super Bowl. The ad is being paid for by Focus on the Family, known for its anti-abortion and right-wing Christian agenda. The 30-second ad is costing between $2.5 million and $2.8 million.
Those who hate Tebow, conservative Christianity, Focus on the Family, the Florida Gators, religion in general, pro-life advocates and any number of other things are up in arms against the ad that they have not seen. Critics claim the ad is anti-abortion. Defenders assert the ad is pro-family.
Albeit an exaggeration, the Tebow TV ad flap has given the TV cable networks and culture warriors an alternative story to the emerging fatigue over Haiti.
While some debate the fairness issue of CBS’ decision to air the Focus on the Family ad versus other advocacy ads, one of the most curious arguments made against the ad is the claim that the Super Bowl is a sacred, culturally transcendent, ritualistically special or nationally unifying experience.
Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization of Women, made that case on CNN’s “Larry King Live.” She said that she would not want to have a conversation with a 16-year-old daughter about abortion during the game after the ad aired.
“I wouldn’t [want] to have that ad during the Super Bowl and have to have that conversation with her at a time when we’re supposed to be coming together and watching a football game,” she said. “You know, we can have these conversations later and – and I think the Super Bowl is not the time to do it.”
O’Neill isn’t alone in elevating the Sunday Super Bowl to hallowed ground.
“An ad that uses sports to divide rather than to unite has no place in the biggest national sports event of the year – an event designed to bring Americans together,” said Jehmu Greene, president of the Women’s Media Center.
“Please reconsider your decision to sell anti-abortion advertising on the Super Bowl, the most-watched game of the year. This is an opportunity to bring people together and should not be used to tear them apart,” wrote the Feminist Majority in a public letter to CBS. “The Super Bowl audience, one of the largest of any event, spans all ages and political positions, and should not be used to promote an anti-abortion message.”
Criticizing CBS’ decision to run an “advocacy ad,” atheist Herb Silverman identified the Super Bowl as “perhaps America’s leading secular ritual.”
“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,” wrote Silverman.
The unifying or sacred argument for the Super Bowl is elusive.
The Super Bowl simply isn’t a sacred event or a culturally transcendent one or a nationalistic galvanizing moment. In fact through the years, the Super Bowl has drained off Sunday evening attendance to the point that many conservative churches have thrown in the cultural towel, canceling services altogether. It has offered ads with sexual innuendos and near pornographic shows. It has been a display of raw materialism, overt sexism and militaristic nationalism, hardly the virtues of a beloved society.
The uniqueness argument against the Tebow TV ad in the Super Bowl is disingenuous.
Some are using the moment to voice their opposition to any public religious display. Others are really upset about the advocacy of a specific moral position. Both parties would do better to make a straight argument for their position than a false one to persuade the public.
Let’s not overstate the virtuous nature of the Super Bowl.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.