(NaturalNews) While New York Giants' quarterback Eli Manning achieved an astonishing success in leading his team to a 17-14 Superbowl win over the New England Patriots, he has so far positioned himself as a junk food peddler off the field by agreeing to star in television advertisements promoting Oreo cookies to audiences that include children. What's wrong with Oreo cookies? Amid our nation's worst epidemic of obesity and type-2 diabetes among children, teens and adults, Oreo cookies are precisely the kind of processed junk foods that contain ingredients widely understood to contribute to those diseases: sugar, processed wheat, partially hydrogenated soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup. Are these the kind of ingredients that a role model like Manning should really be promoting?
In one advertisement, Eli Manning appears alongside his brother Peyton Manning in an Oreo cookie licking contest. While the contrivance seems cute, the message is actually quite serious: Manning is using his celebrity status to promote junk foods that directly contribute to the worsening health of his own fans. By selling his celebrity status to a processed food corporation, he is trading the health of his fans for his own personal financial gain.
Should celebrities be responsible for what they promote?
Now wait a minute. Many would argue that football players aren't supposed to be nutritionists. How are they to know that certain ingredients found in the products they promote may contribute to obesity, diabetes, heart disease or even birth defects? This is exactly my point, actually: Celebrities who accept money in exchange for appearing in commercials have an ethical duty to fully understand the effects of what they're promoting
. Pleading ignorance is not enough, especially when you're walking away with a check for millions of dollars (Manning could earn as much as $5 million in celebrity promotions this year, thanks to his Superbowl win).
I hope I'm not alone in expecting sports heroes to uphold ethical standards of behavior when choosing endorsement opportunities
. While Manning's on-the-field victory was monumental, his off-the-field promotional choices have so far been nothing short of shameful. He may be a football hero today, but until Manning decides to more carefully choose which products to promote to his fans, he will only be a shamed junk food
promoter playing a highly influential role in the continued destruction of the health of the very people who made him famous: His fans.
Of course, Manning is not alone in this celebrity hall of shame. Countless adorable celebrities
have sold out to junk food companies and traded their recognizable faces for a hefty paycheck. Even Jackie Chan -- a martial arts superhero and generally thought of as an honorable human being -- has promoted diet soda for companies like Coke and Pepsi.
Some would argue that I'm being too tough on these celebrities. They shouldn't be held up to these high standards of ethical behavior, some say. Celebrities should be free to promote whatever they want: Junk foods, cigarettes, pharmaceuticals and even war. But I strenuously disagree with that selfish, greed-driven view of personal fame. Isn't it precisely the role of our most cherished celebrities and sports heroes to rise above the norm and serve as role models
for our nation's youth? I believe celebrities have a very serious social responsibility to make sure their actions are constructive, not destructive. Being featured in an advertisement of an Oreo cookie cream filling licking contest is hardly a constructive role for a sports superhero.
What would be the impact, for example, if Eli Manning refused to endorse fast food, junk foods
, pharmaceuticals and consumer products made with toxic chemicals? Sure, he'd earn a lot less money, but he'd do a lot more good
. By simply saying "no" to easy money, Manning could transcend the celebrity status of his own sport (football) and emerge as a superhero role model for all the hundreds of millions of people who don't even follow football. He would transcend the ethics of virtually all other sports heroes while still earning a healthy sum on endorsements of non-destructive products or services (like luxury watches, fitness gear, wholesome foods, and so on).
What will Manning choose to make of himself now?
Like many celebrities, Manning now has the power to make a new choice in deciding where to lend his recognition and star status. He can choose to do what nearly everybody else does in the world of sports and simply whore himself out to the highest bidder, or he can make the far more courageous decision of selecting only those promotional opportunities that are consistent with the health, happiness and abundance of the entire population.
Given what Manning already earns as a quarterback (up to $45 million over six years), it's ridiculous to argue that Manning actually needs the money from celebrity endorsements. Anybody who earns tens of millions of dollars needs to be looking beyond the money
and thinking about their impact on society -- their legacy. What will Manning's legacy ultimately be? Will he run up his own personal salary with another $5 million a year by peddling junk foods, or will he achieve that all-important next step in personal growth and recognize how profoundly his actions can influence the health and lives of people everywhere?
Quarterback Dan Marino made all kinds of money endorsing winter gloves (among other things). Joe Montana made money endorsing Disneyland (but also took money from junk foods manufacturer Kraft Foods). But while the celebrities from years past did not live in an era where the link between junk foods and health was so well established, there's no question today that junk foods and soda pop promote diabetes, obesity, mood disorders, nutritional deficiencies, heart disease, osteoporosis and depression. The evidence linking junk foods and obesity is at least as strong as the link between tobacco and lung disease. Would Manning take money to promote cigarettes? I doubt it. Let us hope he extends the same line of reasoning to Oreo cookies
and other junk foods.
I believe that, like many celebrities, Manning best defines the kind of person he is not by what it took to achieve his fame, but rather by what he chooses to do with it
. As the uncle of another Superhero (Spiderman) once said, "With great power comes great responsibility." Manning now has great power. The question is whether he will act with great responsibility.
Manning's agents, of course, will encourage him to take the biggest endorsement deals available, regardless of the ethics involved. They get paid a percentage of each deal, of course, and they earn nothing for turning down junk food
endorsement deals. But it is Manning himself who ultimately walks onto the set and lends his recognition -- and reputation -- to a corporate sponsor, and it is Manning alone who will be held socially accountable for what he now chooses to do with his celebrity status. For the sake of all those children, teens and adults who watch football, let us hope that Manning will choose to act with a higher degree of ethics than most of his sports celebrity cohorts.
Being a great quarterback is one thing. Being a great human being is something much more meaningful. (And the good news is that Manning can choose to be both!)
Watch my video of Junk Foods vs. Super Foods in the Super Food Bowl