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Gay Rights and Cruising on the Super Bowl


Aside from the tight pants, there's almost nothing "gay" about the Super Bowl. The loud, expensive ads that run between downs push products geared toward the macho audience -- beer, action movies, and in 2007, the Snickers ad that used gay panic to sell the sugar bombs.

This year's Super Bowl -- a showdown February 7 between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts in Miami Gardens, Fla. -- will showcase an ad sponsored by a group as resolutely antigay as you can imagine -- Focus on the Family. The right-wing organization paid around $2.5 million to feature the mother of college football player Tim Tebow advocating against abortion. CBS, the network airing the big game, says it has relaxed rules on "advocacy" ads, so that as long as they're "responsibly produced," they're ready for prime time. A gay-friendly United Church of Christ ad rejected in 2004 by CBS would now be allowed, claims the Eye Network.

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, a group working to end antigay bullying in the nation's schools, has already aired numerous public service announcements on television, including a series of spots featuring Wanda Sykes and Hilary Duff urging people to stop using the phrase "That's so gay." And while the group would love to air the spot during the Super Bowl, the price tag is too high.

"We'd be more than happy if CBS donated airtime for GLSEN's current Ad Council campaign, 'Think Before You Speak,' addressing the negative impact of anti-LGBT language. How about right after the paid Focus on the Family ad?" Daryl Presgraves, public relations manager for GLSEN, writes in an e-mail. "If money were no object, which of course it is, and if we paid for 'Think Before You Speak' placements, which we do not, we [would] certainly see the value in bringing our 'Think Before You Speak' campaign to the most watched event on TV."

How about UCC? When asked whether it would revisit running the earlier ad, which supported gay inclusion, the denomination provided the following statement: "While CBS is saying that a bad economy now necessitates a change in its policy on advocacy ads, this decision only underscores the arbitrary way the broadcast networks approach these decisions. The result is a woeful lack of religious diversity in our nation's media, as demonstrated by the double standard we are witnessing. Because of its own stated financial circumstances, CBS is affording time to one religious viewpoint while having suppressed another. This sounds as if the broadcasters think they own the airwaves when, in theory at least, they do not."

CBS declined the 2004 UCC ad with the following explanation: "Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations, and the fact the Executive Branch [Bush Administration] has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks."

The UCC statement from this week goes on to describe how ABC declined the same UCC ad in early 2005 because, it said, it didn't accept "religious" advertising, though the next month the Disney-owned network allowed a Focus on the Family commercial during its SuperNanny prime-time program. UCC brought up the issue to the Federal Communications Commission, but its complaint was dismissed.

"What concerns the United Church of Christ is how one religious viewpoint is continually accommodated by the TV networks when there is a common misunderstanding in this country that all religious people hold a monolithic view on certain issues, such as reproductive choice or same-gender marriage equality, and this is not the case," continues the UCC statement. "This April, in an attempt to reach newer audiences, the United Church of Christ does plan to unveil a new 30-second commercial with purchased spots on various Internet sites; however, our media-buying plan, at present, does not include spending $2.5 million for a single 30-second Super Bowl ad. Our current churchwide fundraising is very much focused on recovery and longterm rebuilding efforts in Haiti."

However, while the UCC is not purchasing national spots at this time, the larger issue of access remains, not just for the UCC, but for all religious groups. "When the UCC does return again to CBS or another network, will our distinctive religious viewpoint be heard?" the church asked. (The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation echoed the feelings of the UCC in a statement released Wednesday.)

That question will have to wait until UCC has the bucks to cough up to CBS.

Meanwhile, the network is in the midst of a different quandary. A new gay dating/hookup website called ManCrunch (taglines: "Where many many many men come out to play" and "ManCrunch is the premier service connecting men with other men and allowing them to open up about the down low") proposed its own Super Bowl ad, featuring two football fans sucking face. It was announced on Friday that the ad was rejected by CBS.

Shannon Jacobs, a CBS spokeswoman, told that the spot didn't pass muster with their standards and practices department. She added that financial reasons contributed to their decision, saying CBS could not verify ManCrunch's credit.

A ManCrunch spokesperson told CNN that they intended to pay for the $2.5 million commercial in cash. On Thursday, ManCrunch spokesman Dominic Friesen declined to tell The Advocate who the owners of the Toronto-based website were, but said the new company has the money to pay for such an ad.

"Clearly, [CBS is] antigay," Friesen says. "We didn't think [the ad] was going to get rejected; we thought it would make it on the air. We honestly didn't think it was going to be a problem."

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