Dr. Mehmet Oz is a popular TV host whose opinions carry enormous influence with his army of adoring fans, but he's being criticized for shilling on behalf of the National Football League in its promotional ad campaign.
In a blistering L.A. Times column, Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter Michael Hiltzik accuses Dr. Oz of being woefully misguided for promoting football as a manly "rite of passage," notwithstanding the established link between football-related concussions and long-term brain damage.
In the promotional video clip, Dr. Oz glows with pride as he recounts the day his son tackled an opponent head-first at a high-school football game.
When my son Oliver told us he wanted to play football, we were thrilled. It was a rite of passage. The game started, and sure enough, he tackled this kid. My jaw dropped and then the loudspeaker said, 'Tackle, Oliver Oz.' That, I think, is a memory he will never forget. Certainly his father won't."
Meanwhile, a new study from the University of Wisconsin concluded there is no such thing as a concussion-proof football helmet, particularly for high-school football.
Dr. Oz's glowing endorsement of the NFL is a stark contrast to the position President Barack Obama takes. Earlier this year, Obama — a huge football fan — said if he had a son, he probably would not allow him to play college football because of the risk of concussion-related brain damage.
Obama said the violence in both college and professional football makes the game more exciting for viewers, but extremely dangerous for players.
"In some cases, [less violence] may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won't have to examine our consciences quite as much," he said.
Just days ago, former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre revealed he is suffering severe memory loss from the years of hard tackles and concussions he endured on the football field. Favre was sacked a record 525 times during his career — more than any other quarterback in NFL history.
Favre's shocking revelation came on the heels of a massive class-action lawsuit filed in 2012 against the National Football League, where over 4,500 former players alleged the NFL deliberately concealed evidence of the link between football-related head injuries and long-term neurological damage.
The NFL settled that lawsuit in August 2013, and agreed to pay $765 million to 18,000 retired players.
While the NFL has millions of avid fans, including many celebrities, the L.A. Times' Hiltzik is concerned because of Dr. Oz's widespread mainstream popularity. Hiltzik argues that Dr. Oz's enthusiastic endorsement of the NFL will cause his legions of fans to conclude that football is completely safe because Dr. Oz said so. He writes:
Dr. Oz is no ordinary pitchman. A successful open-heart surgeon best known as the host of a daily TV show that pulls in some four million daytime viewers, he may be America's most prominent medical authority. He's delivering his audience to the NFL in a spot that portrays football as 'a rite of passage' that helped his school-age son 'grow up' with a head-first tackle.
There's no mention from this eminent medical man that there may be a few downsides to contact football. There's no mention that schoolboys may be especially at risk, because in many school systems — perhaps most — the quality of helmets and other equipment isn't up to the task of protecting players from what could be life-changing injuries.
The NFL can't manage traumatic head injuries — what are the chances that some rural district where parents think they've gotten the green light from Dr. Oz can do better?"
Dr. Oz responded to the criticism by saying he wasn't endorsing football or the NFL, but merely voicing his love of the game.