Toyota Adoption Commercial: The Highlight of Super Bowl LV

Toyota won over our hearts during Super Bowl LV. Moments after their commercial centered on Jessica Long’s story, the adoption community was buzzing with pride having seen such a relatable topic highlighted on one of the most-watched platforms of the year. Adoption.com’s storytellers submitted their reactions and thoughts about the commercial. Hear what our community had to say about our favorite Super Bowl commercial of 2021. 

“Adoption is not the only story”

By: Deirdre Parker, an adoptive mother

Typically my husband and I have a yearly tradition of watching the Super Bowl at a Super Bowl party complete with the typical football snacks of wings, pizza, dip, chips, ribs, and drinks. Last year, we celebrated with our son whom we adopted in 2019. This year was his second Super Bowl. He was somewhat familiar with the sport and was able to follow along. Of course, we were watching commercials when the Toyota commercial came on our TV. 

The commercial itself had beautiful imagery. I loved the way that it had water everywhere and a woman from the adoption office calling Jessica Long’s adoptive parents. In the 1 minute and 8-second commercial, the assumed social worker from the adoption agency called the Long home and spoke to Mrs. Long who was in the kitchen with her husband. The social worker gave her the typical referral call for a child with special needs. She’s explaining the different symptoms that the child has and where she is located. While this call is happening Jessica is swimming along through scenes that represent various stages in her life: her nursery in Siberia, swim team practice with her prosthetics, and spending time with her family. It finally got to the end where Mrs. Long accepts Jessica’s referral and Jessica is looking at her from the water with a smile on her face. The commercial ends with the quote “We believe there is hope and strength in all of us.” My husband and I saw this with our son and I just said “Wow.” My husband looked at our son, and then I said, well that looks and sounds familiar to us. 

While the Toyota ad is beautiful and definitely shared a beautiful story of Jessica Long, we remembered that the referral process was much longer than a phone call; in fact, it took days. 

This commercial transported us back to September 23, 2018: our son’s referral date. My social worker emailed us that she had a referral for a little boy for us. She wanted us to call back. My husband was in North Carolina. We decided to call her together on the telephone. I will never forget her words. There is a child that we think will match your family. I remember the rest of the conversation being very quiet with my husband and me. She kept speaking about various aspects of his referral that we had to keep in mind. Our referral was a special needs referral and we were open to this scenario for our home based on my background as an early childhood educator. I left the classroom and opened the email to find our son’s referral. After looking through the records, I was flooded with mixed emotions. I was excited, but I was filled with heartache. My husband and I decided that night we would begin the referral process for our little boy. 

I remembered that our agency recommended that we see a list of doctors before we even accept the referral. We spoke to our now-pediatrician who is an adoptive parent herself and has worked with various children with our son’s background. She gave her honest thoughts and shared with us what was ahead of us based on his medical records. She was impressed that his medical records were so detailed, but she cautioned us that there are possibly more medical needs that can come up. She was correct. We have two more minor surgeries upcoming in the next couple of years. We knew what surgeries were coming and what therapies he would need. After meeting with her, we filled out the paperwork to accept the referral for our son. This commercial brought back all of those memories. We were amazed at Jessica herself. My first thought was not to google her parents or the adoption agency—I didn’t even truly think of her as an adoptee. I was more curious about who Jessica Long was and what were all of the great things she did swimming in the Paralympics—an example of strength and hope.  

I was curious about others’ reactions to the Toyota commercial. I posted the link on my Facebook page along with my perspective about the idea that the commercial promoted a savior complex. Of course, as we have all experience on social media, I found varying opinions. Here are some that stuck out. Most people found the commercial wonderful and tactful. “Jessica is amazing. She’s an inspiration.” “The commercial made me cry and gave me all of the right feels.” “What did the Toyota commercial have to do with adoption?” “I thought it was a wonderful message.” “It’s a complex topic to try to summarize in a [30-second] commercial. I viewed it as centering the adoptee…” “I’m proud to have a Toyota because they give their money towards good things.”

For us, we thought it centered around the story of the adoptee. If anything, it piqued our curiosity into who she was. I was very excited to learn that she grew up in my hometown in Baltimore, MD. I believe had it not been for the 1 minute and 8-second commercial, I would not know who she was. If you Google her, you will find many videos about her online. She shares the very story that Toyota has in their ad, but she gives more details about her adoptive parent’s referral story. I understand the complex feelings a commercial like this can bring. The loss in adoption from the adoptee is something that needs to be respected and there needs to be understanding that our backgrounds are going to bring different thoughts and ideas to the table. I listened to the ideas of people who felt troubled by it and the people who were moved to tears by the commercial. It is through these conversations that thoughts about adoption and adoption education can evolve. The openness of thoughts will determine the course of discussion and cause people to reflect on their instant feelings.

I think that we all need to realize that adoption is not the only story of the adoptee. It is one part of the story. Adoption is a part of Jessica’s story, but not the only part of her story— just as adoption is not the only part of my son’s story. She is a Paralympian who has won countless medals. I think if we do what Toyota did and combine the different aspects of her story, we will find inspiration in Toyota’s message: “We believe there is hope and strength in all of us.” Jessica Long is to be commended for her strength, openness,  hard work, and all that she has overcome. 

“Adoption opened new opportunities.”

By: Cindy Hill, an adoptive mother

Last night as I was sitting at my dining room table finishing up my current article, I heard music coming from the television around the corner. I immediately stood up to see what it was. I was struck by the words, “your daughter has been born.” What followed brought about great emotions in me. I could imagine what the adoptive mother in the commercial was feeling as she heard those words. Watching the images of the girl swimming gave us a glimpse into what the future would bring, but this hopeful mother had no idea what was ahead. Without hesitation, she replied, “we look forward to meeting her.” The love of a mother knows no boundaries. She was prepared to love unconditionally, no matter what the circumstances. The adoption opened new opportunities for both the adopted child and the family who chose to love her and welcome her into their home. 

I returned to the table and saw the responses from other adoptive families on social media. My nephew posted, “Ok, Toyota you got me on that one..” Other family members joined in with, “Yup, I cried,” and “Loved it!” He and his wife have adopted three children, one of whom has been diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder. He requires special care and attends multiple therapy appointments each week. His adoptive parents have chosen to give him every option available to learn and grow. Because of loving, adoptive parents, he is developing into a happy, healthy little boy. When his family adopted him, they didn’t know they would be faced with this challenge, but they have taken it on with love and patience.

Special needs are not always known at the time of adoption and can appear later in a child’s life. Adoption opens doors for these children that they may not have had otherwise. Health issues can show up later in life as well as mental health concerns. A caring family will face these obstacles with an open heart and open mind. Life is not certain under any circumstances and parents must be prepared to deal with the trials that it may bring. A loving family will be able to confront these demands with confidence and pride in raising a happy child. 

“No matter what obstacle you face, you can overcome it.”

By: Emili Schurke, an adoptee

When I was watching the Super Bowl last night, the Toyota commercial highlighting the paralympic swimmer, Jessica Long, impressed me. It made my heart so happy to see an adoption story highlighted about a person with special needs: two topics that I am extremely passionate about. Adoption isn’t often highlighted in commercials— especially the adoption of children with special needs. Adoption matters! For Jessica Long, it mattered. Jessica Long was adopted by an American family at the age of 13 months. By 18 months of age, she had both legs amputated just below the knees. Her story is a story of hope, courage, and triumph. Jessica Long’s story shows that there is hope for children with special needs. Jessica was born with a condition in which she had no ankles, heels, fibulas, and most of the other bones in her feet. Due to this condition, she was unable to walk, but today she is a paralympic swimmer who has won 23 medals in her career making her the second most decorated U.S. Paralympian in history. Her story shows us that no matter what obstacle you face, you can overcome it. If she had not been adopted there is no telling what her future would have been. Couples looking to adopt dream of bringing home the perfect baby; just because a child may have been born with special needs, it does not mean that child isn’t perfect for hir or her forever family. Children with special needs can live a full life regardless of a disability. Jessica’s parents had a heart for adoption and chose to adopt her despite her condition. They did everything they could to help her become who she is today.

“All children deserve a chance.”

By: Jenn Martin-Wright, an author and social worker 

Although I did not watch the Toyota commercial regarding the special needs swimmer until the morning after the Super Bowl. I was floored by the adoptive mother’s response when the adoption agency called her and told her that the baby girl they were going to adopt was not only from another country, but that she had to have her legs amputated as well. The adoptive mother’s response, “It might not be easy but it will be amazing. I can’t wait to meet her,” with no hesitation made me smile knowing that there are good hopefully adoptive parents out there for children such as this. There are so many children, especially those with special needs, that need good homes. Sharing these stories is so important for the adoption community and everyone else we surround ourselves with.

It was amazing to watch a company that is well-known highlight the life of this baby who very-well could have been passed over. Instead of taking her disabilities as a setback from the start, as per the prospective adoptive mother’s words, and showing her as a swimmer, they were prepared to give their daughter whatever she needed to succeed in life no matter what. 

Adoption is not talked about enough. For people like Jessica Long, adoption is a key part of her story. Special needs children are no different when it comes to needing to feel wanted and loved. I love the fact that Toyota made adoption and special needs their focal point throughout the commercial and aided viewers in seeing that no matter what, all children deserve a chance to make something of themselves in this world regardless of any disabilities they may possess. 

This commercial was the best I have seen in a long time. Especially during the Super Bowl, most of the commercials are made to be funny. To see both adoption and special needs highlighted on such an impactful platform made me tear up and my heart swell to know what that baby grew into never letting her disabilities stop her in her pursuits and with parents to back her all the way.