PR Whiteboard

Which top athlete is pushing cookies on your kids?

aaaaaacookiesThe 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?


  • Andrew

    I’m as upset about this as anybody, but the fact remains that the kind of alternative types of food products you’re discussing don’t have the kind of money behind them as compared to the big conglomerates. I doubt the fresh fish lobby is willing to shell out millions for an ad campaign on children’s TV shows. The only one I could see as plausible is the cereal example – General Mills has many cereal brands, and it’d be an easy change to switch Cinammon Toast Crunch out for Kix or Cheerios. However, the economic incentive for those companies to make the move will need to be made clear – perhaps only half of General Mills’ portfolio of 42 cereals could be considered healthy. The others are sweet and largely targeted to kids (e.g. Frankenberry, Trix, etc.)

    The only other alternative is for athletes to consciously stop taking these type of endorsement deals, but I’d say that’s a pipe dream in today’s environment. Sigh…

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