This item is crossposted from The New Republic.
As Jonathan Chait has noted, the deadly serious politics of abortion intruded into the playful world of college football when a conservative Catholic magazine recently attacked the University of Notre Dame for hiring a coach who is friendly with pro-choice Democratic politicians. (A similar incident occurred in 2008 when St. Louis University basketball coach Rick Majerus made a pro-choice comment at a Hillary Clinton campaign event).
But we are about to witness a major escalation of right-to-life opinion-mongering in the sporting world, via an ad by football idol Tim Tebow for James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. It will air during the Super Bowl.
According to an AP sports article:
The former Florida quarterback and his mother will appear in a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl next month. The Christian group Focus on the Family says the Tebows will share a personal story centering on the theme “Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life.”
The group isn’t releasing details, but the commercial is likely to be an anti-abortion message chronicling Pam Tebow’s 1987 pregnancy. After getting sick during a mission trip to the Philippines, she ignored a recommendation by doctors to abort her fifth child and gave birth to Tim.
Super Bowl ads, as you probably know, are a very, very big deal, generally costing a couple of mil even for a 30-second item. But Tebow’s appearance could get more attention than the usual soft drink ads.
You have to wonder if James Dobson is aware of the strong possibility of a backlash. Tebow received fawning media attention during his four-year college career at the University of Florida–not just because of his gridiron skills, but also because of his “character” and especially his piety, underscored last year when he etched citations of Bible verses in the “eyeblack” strips players wear in games. Unsurprisingly, fans of other teams and people uncomfortable with public religious displays by celebrities got rather annoyed by it all. When Tebow’s Florida Gators lost a conference championship and a shot at a second straight national championship in December, cameras showed him on the bench weeping copiously, and a large national demonstration of schadenfreude ensued. (The video of the moment instantly shot to the top of the charts on YouTube).
Now Tebow will come crashing into football’s Holy Night with a partisan pronouncement on one of the most controversial issues in American life. I somehow doubt it will persuade too many watchers to change their views on abortion, but it may change some views about Tim Tebow, which could undermine his value to The Cause.
You do have to give Tebow credit for self-sacrifice. The Super Bowl will precede the NFL draft, and the former Heisman Trophy winner is already facing skepticism that he can succeed as a pro quarterback. Undercutting the game’s image as a matter of pure, clean, violent but nonpartisan fun will not endear him to team owners or fan bases. If furor does break out, Tebow may try to protest that he is just expressing his religious faith as he’s always done. If so, he didn’t do himself any favors by choosing as his sponsor Focus on the Family (naively referred to simply as a “Christian group” in the AP story above), with its mile-wide partisan political agenda and the America-as-Nazi-Germany undertones of many of Dobson’s jeremiads against abortion, feminism, and gay rights.
All in all, maybe Tim Tebow should have followed the apocryphal advice Yogi Berra is said to have given baseball players who crossed themselves before each at-bat: “Leave God alone and let Him enjoy the game.”