“He will be getting endorsements before he even touches the ball,” said Darren Heitner, a UF law student and founder/CEO of Dynasty Athlete Representation.
The conservative Christian group Focus on the Family is paying for the ad, which is expected to recount the story of Pam Tebow’s pregnancy in 1987. After getting sick during a mission trip to the Philippines, she ignored a recommendation by doctors to abort her fifth child. She later gave birth to Tim, who won the 2007 Heisman Trophy and helped his Florida team win two BCS championships.
A coalition that includes the National Organization for Women sent a letter to CBS questioning why the network is allowing the ad while previously rejecting other ads it deemed controversial.
“We don’t need a Christian fundamentalist athlete lecturing other people about his beliefs,” said Jodi Jacobson, editor-and-chief of RH Reality Check, an online publication supporting reproductive rights and part of the coalition.
Following the furor over the ad, CBS announced on Tuesday that it had eased restrictions on advocacy ads and would consider any that are “responsibly produced” for the few open spots remaining for the Feb. 7 broadcast. CBS reported it received both critical and supportive e-mails since the coalition began its protest campaign on Monday.
Focus on the Family announced last week that the commercial will share a personal story from the Tebows centered on the theme of “Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life.” The group has declined to provide specific details about the ad, but speculation has centered on the story of Tebow’s birth.
Tim Tebow said the story was the reason he decided to participate in the ad.
“That’s the reason I’m here, because my mom is a really courageous woman,” he said Monday.
Tom Krattenmaker, author of the book “Onward Christian Athletes,” questioned whether the ad’s focus on the “miraculous birth narrative” might turn off even Christians for being idolatrous. Krattenmaker, whose book is critical of mixing religion and sports, said Tebow is moving beyond simply espousing his faith to being a flash point in the culture wars.
“He’s either naive or incredibly gutsy and principled,” Krattenmaker said. “I expect there’s some of both.”
Heitner, whose sports agency represents professional baseball players and other athletes, said Tebow’s display of Bible verses in his eye black means most people already associate him with his religious beliefs. Even fans who support abortion rights might respect him for standing up for his beliefs, he said, so he does not see the ad costing Tebow endorsements.
“In the end, I don’t think he takes any hit whatsoever doing something he believes in,” he said.
Focus on the Family has said donations are being used to buy the 30-second spot, which typically costs between $2.5 million to $2.8 million. Group spokesman Gary Schneeberger said he and his colleagues “were a little surprised” at the furor over the ad.
“There’s nothing political and controversial about it,” he said. “When the day arrives, and you sit down to watch the game on TV, those who oppose it will be quite surprised at what the ad is all about.”
In its letter to CBS, the coalition of women’s groups said the network was aligning itself with an “anti-equality, anti-choice, homophobic organization” by airing the ad. The letter referred to CBS’ history of prohibiting advocacy ads that it deems controversial, such as ads from groups such as PETA, MoveOn.org and the United Church of Christ.
As for Tebow, he first addressed controversy over the ad Sunday while meeting with reporters in Mobile, Ala., before preparing for this weekend’s Senior Bowl. He said he has deep convictions on the abortion issue because of his mother’s story.
“I know some people won’t agree with it, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe,” he said.
Gainesville Sun staff writer Robbie Andreu and The Associated Press contributed to this report.