When the deal between Kellogg’s and Phelps was announced a few days ago, an immediate controversy was sparked. Some on the “health” side of things were upset that he should be endorsing such a sugar-laden cereal—in light of the childhood obesity epidemic. Other voices said that this is America, and he should try to go for all the gold he can, now that he won all those gold medals.
Several issues are raised here…
The only way Phelps can derive any revenue from his years of training in swimming is by endorsements, and maybe a book deal, since there is no professional swimming circuit. Clearly, there is a lot more money to be made by endorsing hugely successful mainstream commercial products than there would be from taking on some obscure health food item. One exception might have been Quaker Oats’ oatmeal, but perhaps they never came calling.
Parents and health educators who decry celebrity endorsements for unhealthy childhood items seem to be begging the question as to what the parents’ influence should be. At one time, popular athletes were endorsing cigarettes and beer, and if there was an outcry about this, it was pretty quiet.
Then, there is the whole matter of celebrity endorsements. Why should we be influenced by paid endorsers at all? My feeling is that this mode of promotion never actually creates more sales unless it is employed to introduce a new product. What is really going on here has a lot more to do with the egos of the companies and their ad agencies, than increasing sales. Apparently, snagging a big celeb to do an endorsement is considered some sort of accomplishment in and of itself.
Note that this is completely different from getting a big star to “open” a picture, since the star is directly part of the movie, while the endorser has nothing at all to do with the product he is pitching.
And, what about the “health” aspect of all this? There is not much harmful in Frosted Flakes if they are part of a balanced diet. As I have often pointed out, 50-odd years ago, when I was a little kid, all we seemed to eat was junk food, yet almost no kids were fat. The reason is that the portions were smaller, we were far more physically active, and there was no PC police around to prevent shunning of the few fat kids who did exist, which almost invariably led to them losing weight.
Besides, it is by no means clear that athletes—in general—are necessarily in good health. Stories abound of elite runners who drop dead, football players who die young, overweight baseball players, and pixie-sized gymnasts whose development seems to have been retarded by over-training. Moreover, if “fitness” includes cardiovascular endurance, correct body weight, flexibility, strength, and balance, many professional athletes would fail to make the grade.
For example, football linemen are substantially overweight; wide receivers that go in for one play, and then return to the bench to suck oxygen lack endurance (but may have short-term blinding speed); and elite weight lifters often lack flexibility.
In addition, certain questions remain unanswered. Can someone in “good health” die young of “natural causes”? Should any determination of “good health” take into account genetic issues that put someone at a disadvantage? Can someone look older than their years, but still be in “good health”?
It all comes down to this: Michael Phelps worked hard—albeit for a lot shorter period of time than most folks—and if he can find a company willing to put him on easy street for the rest of his life, why not take the offer?