Weeks after scoring a publicity coup with a 30-second Super Bowl ad featuring Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, conservative Christian group Focus on the Family is at the center of another marketing tug-of-war — this time involving the major governing body of college sports.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association removed a Focus on the Family banner ad from one of its Web sites this week, NCAA spokesman Bob Williams said Wednesday.
The NCAA made the decision after some of its members — including faculty and athletic directors — expressed concern that the evangelical group's stance against gay and lesbian relationships conflicted with the NCAA's policy of inclusion regardless of sexual orientation, Williams said.
The ad in question was not about sexuality. It featured a father holding his son and the words, "All I want for my son is for him to grow up knowing how to do the right thing." Like the Tebow ad, it included the address of Focus on the Family's Web site and the slogan, "Celebrate Family. Celebrate Life."
Focus on the Family spokesman Gary Schneeberger said that if such material were "all of a sudden labeled hate speech, we have deeper problems in our country than we even know."
Williams said the decision to pull the ad was based not on the message but on the messenger.
Advertisers "should be generally supportive of NCAA values and attributes and/or not be in conflict with the NCAA's mission and fundamental principles," according to NCAA standards. The NCAA may exclude ads or advertisers "that do not appear to be in the best interests of higher education and student athletes."
The NCAA Web site is maintained by CBS Sports, and the ad was part of Focus on the Family's Super Bowl contract with CBS, Schneeberger said. CBS sells ads to support the NCAA.com site — which features information about NCAA championships — and the NCAA reviews the ads, Williams said.
He said the ad was reviewed and the content did not raise any red flags. Williams said he was sure there was some discussion of Focus on the Family, as well, but he did not know the details.
Schneeberger said there is nothing political, controversial or hateful about the ad, saying it's meant to urge people enduring life challenges to check out Focus on the Family as a resource.
But Pat Griffin, a retired University of Massachusetts Amherst professor who is a consultant to the NCAA on gay and lesbian issues, said it's not a generic feel-good message.
She said the slogan's "life" reference is anti-abortion, and celebrating families does not extend to all families but "a very specific kind of family — heterosexual married families. A large part of their energy goes to preventing other kinds of families of having recognition."
Griffin said it's one thing for CBS to accept such an ad, but it's different for the NCAA.
"It's not the right image or role for the NCAA to be endorsing an organization that has such an extreme right-wing Christian political mission," said Griffin, who used her blog to protest the ad.
Schneeberger said Focus on the Family spends 90 percent of its budget on providing parenting and marriage resources and 10 percent on advocacy on issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
The Tebow Super Bowl ad — featuring the football player and his mother — attracted protests even before it aired from women's groups that suspected it would feature an explicit anti-abortion message.
The ad featured Tebow's mother talking about how she nearly lost her son during pregnancy and ended with Tebow tackling his mother and the pair joking they have to be "tough" to endure their trials.
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