Tim Tebow is accustomed to the spotlight, and to pressure, adulation and criticism.
He’s also accustomed to the abuse doled out by overly oiled football fans on Saturday nights in places like Baton Rouge, La., Knoxville and Tuscaloosa, Ala.
But I’m not sure he was ready for the vitriol that’s hit him like a blitzing NFL-bound linebacker over the past couple of weeks.
Tebow is a star. The Heisman Trophy winning quarterback is, quite simply, the most famous and celebrated college athlete of the past decade and enjoys a stratospheric level of celebrity that’s reserved for a very small number of collegiate athletes, past or present.
His stardom, replete with Chuck Norris-type jokes — e.g. “The only time Tim Tebow was wrong was when he thought he had made a mistake” — is also due in no small part to his seemingly impeccable character. His humanitarian activities include visiting prisoners and working with the poor, in the U.S. and abroad.
Adding to the Tim Tebow legend is the news that became well known early in his college football career.
When his mother, Pam, was pregnant with Tim, doctors recommended she terminate the pregnancy in the interest of her own health. She chose to ignore that advice, believing and hoping that both she and her unborn child would survive. Obviously, things have turned out well.
It is an inspirational story of a mother’s faith and her love for a son. It is also the central story of an ad that will appear on CBS during the Super Bowl. Based on the reaction of some fringe groups on the far left, you’d think that it’s a story of unspeakable evil.
“This ad is hate masquerading as love,” said Erin Matson, of the National Organization for Women. (I’m going to give Matson the benefit of the doubt and assume that she accidentally picked up the well-honed talking points for another issue — say, child abuse — and not for an ad about a mom loving her son.)
Jehmu Greene, the head of the Women’s Media Center, complained that the ad is “sexist.” (Again, being generous, I’m thinking she’s just concerned that Tim’s father isn’t getting equal time.)
“This un-American hate doesn’t have a place in this all-American pastime,” complained Kierra Johnson, executive director of Choice USA. (“Hate,” again? These folks need a dictionary to understand the word’s meaning or a thesaurus to mix it up a little. And un-American? Has she not ever heard the phrase, “as American as mom and apple pie”? OK, apparently the ad doesn’t have apple pie, but it does have mom.)
Jodi Jacobson, the editor of a reproductive rights magazine, said, “We don’t need a Christian fundamentalist athlete lecturing other people about his beliefs.” (Again — wrong story, wrong talking points. I mean, I went to college and didn’t have a single 30-second lecture on love. I do find it interesting that Jacobson does seem to believe that we need an abortion advocate lecturing us about her beliefs.)
What may surprise you is that all of these statements are being made by people who haven’t even seen the ad. Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs-based ministry that mostly delivers marital and parenting resources to families (full disclosure: I once worked for Focus), has not revealed the contents of the ad. All they’ve told us is that it’s about a loving mother and son.
Now, in fairness, I can’t discern the deeper thoughts or motives of those who are waging this war on CBS, Pam Tebow and her son, but I suspect that the frustration they feel goes well beyond this Super Bowl ad to a much more fundamental problem: there’s just not a comparable feel-good story from the other perspective.
We are human beings, and as such we prefer stories of life to stories of death.
We are captivated by tales of loving sacrifice and of underdogs overcoming great odds to succeed.
So while none of the critics have seen the ad, they’ve done enough research to know the essence of the Tebow story harnesses those very elements of compelling storytelling.
But challenges abound for those who reside rigidly on the other side of the issue. For not only is modern technology humanizing the “mass of fetal tissue,” it’s also difficult to find warm and inspiring stories that feature “terminating pregnancies.” There may be stories about hard choices, but nothing that causes the human spirit to soar.
So they must turn the Tebow story into something it clearly is not, distorting the meaning of words and phrases — turning something that is warm and inspiring into “hate masquerading as love” — believing that if they say it long enough and loudly enough it will all be true.
But it still won’t be true. Without having seen it myself, I suspect that in the eyes of viewers, love will obviously be love and life will obviously be life. Hate won’t be anywhere to be found except in the minds and on the lips of a few “pro-choice” zealots.
There’s plenty of irony in all this, of course. It’s ironic that the most anticipated advertisement for this year’s Super Bowl isn’t something springing forth from the creative minds of brewers, employment companies or underwear manufacturers; it’s an ad produced by a ministry in Colorado that, apparently, glorifies family, life and love.
And on the Monday morning after the Super Bowl, as people gather around water coolers, in break rooms and on work sites to discuss the game and the much anticipated commercials — the good, the bad and the trashy — one of the first questions is likely to be, “What did you think of the Tebow ad?”
At some level, we will all be able to thank some ideological hecklers on the fringe for bringing it to our attention.
Randy Hicks is president of the Georgia Family Council, a nonprofit research and education organization in Norcross.
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