In the US, American-style football is big, both as an entertainment medium, and as a business. Worldwide, people are aware of the sport’s premier contest, the Super Bowl, even if they don’t watch it. Last year the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl in dramatic fashion. Their quarterback Tom Brady was embroiled in accusations that he changed the air pressure in the footballs to gain a distinct advantage in the an earlier tournament’s championship game, which they won to get to the Super Bowl. Personally I found the whole discussion to be puerile and arbitrary. I don’t hold any professional athletes in very high regard, but Brady is transcendent of his sport in the public eye for a host of reasons. He is a success story at a premier position in the National Football League, the sport’s governing body, having risen from relative insignificance to become a Hall of Fame player. Similar to David Beckham retired UK footballer, he is married to his wealthier international super model wife, and he has name recognition and fame status that supersedes his sports status.
Brady appears to be a reasonably intelligent person successful in his chosen profession, and notably a person who cultivates a very specific public image. He commands attention in the national and international media. Usually he has a very measured and thought-out discussion in public forums. Most of his public interviews are careful, noncommittal, crafted to say nothing usually. On October 12, 2015, in a live interview on WEEI—a Boston, Massachusetts radio station—he gave an uncharacteristically open statement in support of his business partner Alex Guerrero, who had come under public scrutiny due to a contemporary article in Boston Magazine about a Federal Trade Commission complaint and settlement approximately 13 years ago. He has been accused of scamming investors and dispensing disreputable medical advice. I was dismayed by Brady’s statements during this interview and his vigorous defense of an obvious quack who is a proven fraud. Brady unabashedly promoted similar products and he claimed he hadn’t read the actual complaint by FTC against his partner Guerrero.
The Boston Magazine article rightfully paints Alex Guerrero as a snake oil salesman. Guerrero faked being a doctor and claimed his products could cure cancer and concussions, as well as a host of other terminal illnesses in a national broadcast TV infomercial. The commercial was structured like a talk show, with an interviewer named Donald Barrett, from Saugus, Massachusetts, asking Guerrero about his product and the 200 patients in his study:
MR. BARRETT: Were they terminal?
DR. GUERRERO: They were diagnosed as terminal.
MR. BARRETT: 200 people. Now, eight years later, how many of them are still alive?
DR. GUERRERO: Out of those 200 people that were terminal we lost eight. Eight passed away.
Guerrero is not a doctor of any kind; he has a masters in oriental medicine, and his cancer claims were fabricated from whole cloth. There was no study and there were no such people. In addition, he recommended that his product was completely safe for children and pregnant women—also unproven, possibly dangerous. The Federal Trade Commission eventually filled a complaint against Guerrero as well as his partners. (The FTC tends to prosecute these cases because the FDA had it teeth pulled by congress over two decades ago and is powerless to protect us.)
In June 2004, the government sued Guerrero, and the production companies responsible for creating and airing the infomercial, for making unlawful claims and representing his product, Supreme Greens, in a deceptive format. “Consumers throughout the United States have suffered and continue to suffer substantial monetary loss and possible injury to their health,” the FTC wrote in its complaint.
Guerrero only personally suffered a $65,000 fine and loss of car because his financial interest was minor.
Like many snake oil salesmen, the FTC’s actions have not stopped him from selling and promoting exactly the same type of miracle cure with his current business venture, NueroSafe.
Brady has said in the past that Guerrero is his “best friend” and that he’s helped him “more than anyone could ever realize.”
The Patriots’ quarterback even endorsed Guerrero’s products, claiming, “NeuroSafe makes me feel comfortable that if I get a concussion I can recover faster and more fully.”
And Brady made that endorsement with full knowledge that the FTC found Guerrero guilty of fraudulently claiming that he cured 200 people of cancer, using fabricated research. Guerrero is selling a similar product with less outrageous claims today. Despite all those clear warning signs of a fraud Brady continues to stand by his guy.
Brady is not just a business partner, he’s a believer. In that same radio interview, Brady also makes a number of outrageous statements about western medicine conspiracies, false dichotomy arguments with oriental medicine, naturalistic fallacy statements, and the soda boogeyman as the cause of obesity and health issues in the west.
What little respect I had for Brady quickly melted away while I listened to that interview. I could care less about the so called “Deflate Gate” and PSI in footballs. I am even understanding about true believers, for whom personal experience is very compelling. That said, when you have the kind of public influence Brady has, you have to pay attention to fraud. Your public support has repercussions. Your voice carries more weight. In this case, a proven fraudster selling the exact same type of snake oil he was punished for selling 13 years earlier, has been given a stamp of credibility by an admired sports star. That may be a greater seal of approval for consumers than the FTC’s punishment is a warning sign.
I really had no strong inclinations about accusations of cheating against Brady. I respected him for his accomplishments and work ethic. Although I’m a football fan, I take a dim view of idolization of sports figures. In my opinion, placing yourself in the Oprah/Dr. Oz/Gwyneth Paltrow-crank-celebrity category, with rampant unwavering ideology—repercussions be damned—is damaging and shameful for cultural icons, and dangerous for the consumers who look up to them and aspire to the kind of lifestyle they promote. What respect I had for Brady went out the door when I heard him voraciously defend and support a proven fraud.
I do have a new hero, however: radio personality Kirk Minihane. Minihane was the interviewer on that WEEI program, and interview and subsequent grilling of Brady’s statements were inspired. I also take into account that as Minihane is the host of a sports radio show, a weekly interview with Brady is good for his ratings. Pressing Brady on his support of quackery risks Brady walking away from those interviews permanently, and consequently hurting ratings. That makes his dogged questioning of Brady’s statements courageous. If he isn’t a self-identified scientific skeptic, he should be. I heard the live broadcast and I couldn’t have challenged the ridiculous statements Mr. Brady made any better than he did. Cheers, Mr. Minihane!