Tim Tebow is a known anti-choice advocate, and T-Mobile’s decision to feature him in a Super Bowl ad delivering a baby communicates a profound disrespect toward women and those made vulnerable to harm by the restriction of reproductive rights. (That’s everyone.)
The ad was one of a series featuring Tebow engaged in a wide range of activities because he is a free agent who no longer has an NFL contract. It was meant to suggest that T-Mobile wireless consumers can also engage in a wide range of activities because the service does not require a contract. As Super Bowl ad concepts go, it’s well within the range of normal to take a football star and give him the Hollywood treatment: make him a hero while things blow up big-budget style, prod a few laughs, and put the sponsor’s logo on the screen.
But one thing the series did was depict Tebow as a neutral actor in the arena of birth, pregnancy, and reproductive health—of which he is not.
Let’s have a brief history lesson: In 2010, Tim Tebow made headlines by partnering
with right-wing group Focus on the Family to create a Super Bowl ad designed to spread the group’s anti-choice message.
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The ad created a great deal of controversy for CBS before the Super Bowl that year. In response to outcry from pro-choice advocates and others in the progressive community, CBS acknowledged that it had changed its internal rules regarding advocacy ads. Notably, in 2004, CBS declined to air an ad submitted by the United Church of Christ that had been intended to depict a welcoming stance toward potential parishioners regardless of sexual orientation.
The Focus on the Family Tebow ad that ultimately aired during the 2010 Super Bowl was meant to appear benign. The word “abortion” was not used, it featured Tebow with his mom, Pam, and the spot wrapped by encouraging viewers to go to the group’s website to learn more about their story and, of course, anti-choice views.
Once online, viewers were prompted to watch a longer web-only video sharing a story filled with standard anti-choice rhetoric: assertions that Pam was, during the course of a difficult pregnancy, pressured to have an abortion she did not want, and that medical professionals in the Philippines referred to her fetus as a “tumor” and “blob of tissue.” In the video, Pam extolls the virtues she sees in crisis pregnancy centers, urges women with unplanned pregnancies to avoid abortion, and declares that she takes the platform that her son Tim has seriously.
With this baggage, it’s noteworthy that T-Mobile would choose to depict Tebow delivering a baby in one of its Super Bowl commercials this year. The anti-abortion rights stance parroted by Tebow, Focus on the Family, and the anti-choice community physically endangers women in childbirth. In one gruesome example, Savita Halappanavar died in an Ireland hospital two years ago during a pregnancy because doctors denied her a life-saving abortion.
It may be the case that marketing executives at T-Mobile are not fully aware of the implications of restricting the right to abortion, but with the amount of branding dollars on the line, there is no question that those involved in the release of the recent ad
were aware that Tebow had participated in a controversial abortion-related commercial just four years earlier. The decision to show him in a maternity ward, wearing a white coat, and coaching a pregnant woman in labor was a bad one. Depicting famously anti-choice spokespeople as experts, or even ordinary Joes, in the arena of reproductive health is not funny. It’s disrespectful.