In the ad, mom Pam Tebow flashes a baby picture of her quarterback son and calls him her miracle baby. In one version of the ad, Tim Tebow tackles his mother; another version of the ad has Tim walk calmly into the frame and hug his mother.
Neither ad says anything about abortion, mentions any pro-life or pro-choice buzzwords, or features anything but a mother and a son mugging happily for the camera. Text at the end of the spots, however, directs viewers to www.focusonthefamily.com, where we can discover the rest of the Tebow story.
It is here, on the conservative, pro-life, Christian website that abortion and buzzwords abound. Jim Daly, the organization’s president, begins his interview with Pam and Bob Tebow by arguing that 30 seconds is not enough time to tell the whole Tebow story, and yet the details of Pam Tebow’s fifth pregnancy have been thoroughly rehashed in the weeks leading up to the big game. Thirty seconds was enough, in this case, because the viewing audience came to the ad knowing the details of Pam’s high-risk pregnancy, her doctor’s urging to abort her pregnancy to save her own life, and Pam’s decision to carry her pregnancy to term. The Super Bowl ad, then, functioned as an enthymeme, relying upon the audience to provide necessary premises that enabled the spot to make its pro-life argument.
Focus on the Family’s Tebow interview makes standard pro-life arguments. Pam goes over the details of her pregnancy again, sidestepping the pro-choice ideograph “choice” by noting that she had no “decision” to make regarding her pregnancy when her doctor suggested abortion. Her reproductive decisions, Pam asserts, were made by God. Neatly conferring personhood on fetuses, Pam and Bob refer to her pregnancy as Tim and “him” throughout their retelling, and they obscure any middle ground pro-choice and pro-life rhetors may have carved by claiming that even the potential loss of a woman’s life does not necessitate abortion. Near the end of the interview, when asked what he would say to a “girl” carrying an unplanned pregnancy, Bob Tebow looks into the camera and pleads, “Don’t kill your baby.”
This message is reinforced by several links that appear beside and underneath the interview. Viewers can visit the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association or the Tim Tebow Foundation, but it is Focus on the Family’s own links that are most explicit. A box labeled “Know Your Options” plugs pregnancy help centers that promise to help pregnant women with “pregnancy and abortion related issues,” including The Morning After Pill. Clicking on the hypertext “Morning After Pill” brings up another box that urges readers to avoid taking large doses of hormones and notes that the MAP may in fact cause abortion, if you believe that life begins at fertilization. Another box labeled “Be a Voice for Life,” reveals that these pregnancy help centers save the lives of “pre-born babies” (to borrow a term from Daly’s Tebow interview) by offering ultrasounds to pregnant women. The pro-life camp’s most powerful rhetorical weapon has long been images of fetuses, and Focus on the Family is counting on images of flickering heart beats to expose the woeful inadequacy of “choice.”
Yahoo sports blogger Jay Busbee claims that the Tebow spot will revolutionize Super Bowl ads, opening the door for special interest groups to appeal to a captive beer-and-buffalo-wing-addled audience. I am not sure this is true. Not only does this ad not contribute anything new to the abortion debate, it asks a little too much of its viewers. For the ad to be effective, we have to know the backstory, and we have to be willing to visit the website. Otherwise, we’re left with the bland “Celebrate Family. Celebrate Life” tag line. Maybe that’s the banality the organization was trying to peddle in the first place, a slogan that makes us feel warm and fuzzy when pull out our checkbooks.