Which top athlete is pushing cookies on your kids?

By Scott Signore

The old saying “All publicity is good publicity” does not apply to high-profile athletes who endorse, support or promote unhealthy food. It’s bad PR for Lebron James, the reigning NBA Finals MVP, to position himself as a fan of McDonald’s fast food, or Serena Williams, a women’s tennis champion many times over, to push Oreos to the masses. And, it’s a particularly bad idea in 2013 when an ever-expanding generation of kids is already pummeled by sugar-rich ad spending and easy access to sweets.

Good PR for professional athletes would mean partnering with brands pushing healthier foods aimed at increasing the energy, stamina and overall good health, in kids. It’s not such a stretch, is it? I can foresee Usain Bolt endorsing a healthy breakfast cereal that gives him just the right amount of energy to get to the finish line first. I can see Adrian Peterson promoting fruit and vegetables that give him the endurance to play all four quarters of a challenging football game. Why not David Ortiz as a case study of why eating fish for dinner helps him hit home runs in the playoffs? (And here in Boston those are home runs that we need and like!)

These athletes are setting an example – and they accept the responsibility to be a role model in all areas of life whether they are ready for it or not, and their endorsements of unhealthy food (and often, corresponding behavior!) results in followers who take the same path. That path could be a healthier one for so many if high-profile athletes stopped shilling their credibility by pushing cookies and cheeseburgers on the kids who worship them. They can and should say “no” to sugar and credit a healthy diet as a key contributor to their own athletic success.

In the meantime, however, big brands will continue to spend big money on athlete endorsements – it’s estimated that $1.3 billion was spent on athletic endorsements in 2013 – and few of the paid athletes will demonstrate a legitimate concern for the message they are sending children.

What about you?  Do you think athletes should give serious thought to the foods they endorse?