WHITNEY: Nationwide speaks up for children

No one wants to think about their own mortality, much less that of their children, and even less during the Super Bowl.

Beer and pizza don’t mix well with lessons in caution and existentialism, so people are predictably upset after seeing Nationwide’s “Make Safe Happen” commercial sandwiched in between the other ads selling beer and pizza.

The Nationwide commercial opens with a little boy riding a bike while he explains that he’ll never learn how to ride a bike, catch of a case of cooties from a girl on the bus or learn to fly.

Cinematically, it’s a beautiful ad that captures the magic of childhood in a pretty stunning and imaginative way. This little boy is sailing the ocean in a bath tub sailboat with his best friend, the grinning black lab. What could be more lovely than that?

Well, the message at the end is a little jarring.

“I couldn't grow up because I died from an accident,” the boy says, followed by a voiceover telling the audience that preventable accidents are the leading cause of death in children.

That’s a staggering fact. But perhaps it’s a bit too sobering, a bit too uncomfortable and certainly not in the spirit of Super Bowl Sunday.

So people are mad.

And all I can really do is, like, roll my eyes and sigh heavily.

If there’s anything I’ve learned working in the news business, it’s that people don’t like to hear bad news about children and they don’t like to be confronted with uncomfortable facts like those Nationwide presented. Facts such as …

  • Between 600,000 and 800,000 people annually are bought and sold across international borders for forced labor or commercial sex, and half of those are children, according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
  • National statistics suggest one in four girls and one in six boys with be the victims of sexual abuse before they turn 18.
  • Annually, referrals to state child protective services involve 6.3 million children, and around 3 million of those children are subject to an investigated report. More than 70 percent of the children who died as a result of child abuse or neglect were 2 years of age or younger. More than 80 percent were not yet old enough for kindergarten, according to Kids Count.
  • Twenty-eight percent of children in Mecosta County live in poverty. In Osceola County, it’s 33 percent. In Lake County, it’s 53 percent, according to the annual County Health Rankings report.
  • In Mecosta County, 59.5 percent of K-12 students received free or reduced school lunches in 2010, the most recent year data is available from the Michigan League of Human Services. Osceola County is slightly lower with 59.2 percent of students eating free or reduced-cost meals.

So people are mad because someone reminded them to protect their children to their best abilities and had the audacity to do so during the annual celebration of the National Football League, that sacrosanct organization that makes its money by offering careers to a lot of men who haven’t done their best to protect their children and children’s mothers. But I guess that’s kind of another column …

I feel genuinely bad if the Nationwide ad totally harshed your Super Bowl party vibe. That must have been rough.

But Nationwide did a good thing. They used their time, talent and money to secure the largest platform possible for a message that, although stunning in its simplicity, probably needed to be heard.

In a world where opinion — including mine! — is so abundant, and entertainment is prioritized over news and awareness of the world around us, we need fact to be thrust into focus more often, especially for a public so eager to ignore it.