During the first two games of the NBA Finals viewers have been inundated with commercials for Shaquille O’Neal’s new upcoming reality program, Shaq’s Big Challenge. According to the advertisements, the premise of the show has the NBA superstar helping six kids lose weight and get in shape. Of course, with childhood obesity one of America’s biggest health problems, there is nothing wrong with someone taking a stand and helping some kids live healthier lives. Kudos to Shaq for taking the initiative.
However, given Shaq’s advertising history since his rise to prominence as an NBA superstar, it is easy to see some level of hypocrisy in his attempt to make kids healthy. Before 2004, Shaq appeared in several commercials for food and drink products that in no way, shape, or form could ever be considered healthy. Many of these commercials even included kids. In one of his first major ads way back in 1993, for example, Shaq pitched the new 1 liter bottle of Pepsi. During this ad, several kids sat in awe as their Pepsi bottles were mysteriously drained by Shaq Diesel and his unquenchable thirst. In a second ad, Shaq shares a Pepsi six-pack with a group of kids after a sweaty game of basketball.
In 1997 Shaq followed the Pepsi campaign with commercials for Taco Bell, even putting aside his basketball differences with former NBA Finals adversary Hakeem Olajuwon to sell tacos. During his stay at Taco Bell, Shaq also pitched the oh-so-good-for-you “Four-Alarm Taco”. My guess is the “Four-Alarm” wasn’t the healthiest thing on the menu.
In 2001, Shaq worked with the Nestle Crunch corporation to once and for all determine the correct pronunciation of the word “caramel”. This ad campaign had Shaq involved again with the youth of America. As a special to Nestle, Shaq also put his name on the “Nestle Crunch Shaq Size Bar“, a 9.25 Pound Candy Bar. A nine and a quarter pound candy bar! You could feed several starving villages in Africa with a 9.25 pound candy bar.
Ol’ Shaq followed up his cooperation with Nestle by joining Burger King the following year in order to get the word out about the Shaq Pack Value Meal. This delicious, mouth-watering, tasty conglomeration of products contained “a Grilled Sourdough Bacon
Cheeseburger, fries with a cheese dipping sauce and an ice-cold soft drink“. Everything a healthy American needs. At least there were no kids involved in the Burger King ads.
After once again teaming up with Nestle Crunch in 2004, I believe Shaquille O’Neal had an epiphany. Since the Nestle ads of ’04, he has not appeared in any more “junk food” advertisements. As a matter of fact, he has gone the opposite route, pitching vitamin-enhanced Mighty Milk and associating himself with 24 Hour Fitness Sports Clubs.
Now, I have been a Shaq fan for a long time and consider him one of, if not the best center to ever play the game. In my opinion, people can say all they want about there never being another Michael Jordan, but I think Shaquille O’Neal is more of a once-in-a-lifetime athlete. So I write this not to bury Shaq, just to point out a blatant hypocrisy.
Here is a quote from Shaq that, in light of his previous advertising, probably should not have been said:
“When I was a kid, we didn’t have access to so many computer and video games. We were more active (physical activity was everything for me). In addition, we didn’t have jumbo meals, the super-sized sandwiches or the amount of candy and chips that are available today.”
Notice how many of the products Shaq speaks out against he himself pushed on kids? Again, much credit to Shaq for helping to put kids on the path for healthy lives, but isn’t this like former High Times “Stoner of the Year” Snoop Dogg teaching the youth of America the dangers of smoking weed?