Thursday, October 26, 2006

Cardinals' Pitcher Jeff Suppan urges Missouri voters to oppose stem-cell research

The New York Times
Cardinals' Suppan Pitching and Politicking

ST. LOUIS, Oct. 25 - Jeff Suppan is scheduled to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the World Series at Busch Stadium, but his time on the mound will not be his only appearance on the baseball telecast.

Suppan is one of several athletes in a political campaign commercial to be broadcast regionally during the Fox network’s telecast of the game. The ad urges Missouri voters to oppose stem-cell research and vote against Amendment 2 to the state constitution, on the ballot in the Nov. 7 election.

In a video copy of the ad, produced and distributed by an anti-amendment group called Missourians Against Human Cloning and posted on the Internet, Mr. Suppan’s face appears in the first 10 seconds. He is not wearing a baseball cap in the ad.

"Amendment 2 claims it bans human cloning, but in the 2,000 words you don’t read, it makes cloning a constitutional right," Mr. Suppan says in the ad. "Don’t be deceived."

Other athletes who appear in the ad are Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals football team, who formerly played with the St. Louis Rams, and Mike Sweeney of the Kansas City Royals baseball team. James Caviezel, the actor who played Jesus in the film The Passion of the Christ, also appears.

The timing is no coincidence: Cathy Ruse, a spokeswoman for Missourians Against Human Cloning, said the group specifically bought advertising time during Game 4, when Mr. Suppan would be pitching.

Scott Leventhal, Suppan’s agent, said early Wednesday evening that Suppan has approved use of the ad during the telecast of the game in which he is pitching. Leventhal had said earlier in the day that he would try to get the ad withdrawn because it would be a distraction to Suppan’s team trying to win a championship.

But, after speaking by telephone with Suppan in the Cardinals’ clubhouse, Leventhal said Suppan had given his permission for the ad to be used during the game.

Austin Ruse, husband of Cathy Ruse and also a member of the group, said Suppan had his comments taped by himself at his home and they were picked up by the group on Tuesday and inserted into the ad.

"He was the last piece to fall into place," Austin Ruse said of Suppan. "He shot it. He said it was ready. We slipped it in."

Tony La Russa, manager of the Cardinals, was asked Wednesday his opinion of Suppan’s involvement and his policy regarding players involving themselves in such causes.

"Our organization encourages guys to get involved in something beyond just baseball," La Russa said. "I just like the fact that guys make a commitment."

The stem-cell research issue has moved to the center of the Missouri Senate campaign between Jim Talent, the Republican incumbent, and Claire McCaskill, the Democratic challenger. Mr. Talent opposes the amendment; Ms. McCaskill supports it.

The actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease one of many conditions that researchers hope to cure through stem-cell research has taped a commercial supporting Ms. McCaskill and her stand on the issue.

Because that ad ran during an earlier World Series telecast, the opponents of the amendment decided to respond in kind with the ad featuring the athletes.

Ms. Ruse said her group paid $135,000 to air two ads during the game on stations carrying the game in Missouri one a 60-second version, the other a different 30-second ad. Suppan appears only in the longer version.

She said that members of her group who happened to be neighbors of Suppan told the group he was sympathetic to their views. Leventhal confirmed that Suppan feels passionately about the stem-cell issue and was aware of the ramifications of getting involved in a political issue when he made the advertisement.

"Jeff has been in this game a long time," Leventhal said. "He knows what he is doing."

Connie Farrow, a spokeswoman for a group that favors the amendment, the Missouri Coalition for Life-Saving Cures, said that even though Suppan was one of her favorite Cardinal pitchers, she disagreed with his statements in the ad and would prefer to rely on the opinions of medical experts on questions of science.

"He’s wrong - respectfully, I say that," Farrow said of Suppan in a telephone interview. "I would ask Jeff Suppan why Missourians don’t deserve to be treated the same as other Americans when it comes to health care."

If the ad is broadcast, it will be seen only on stations serving Missouri; viewers in other parts of the country will see local advertising for their region instead. Should Game 4 be postponed by rain on Wednesday, the ad would run on Thursday or whenever the game is played.