Dr. Mehmet Oz is taking heat for having praised football, while at the same time failing to mention the sport's history of inflicting brain injuries on players—young ones especially.
On Monday the L.A. Times published a blistering indictment of the television-celebrity-physician, the tone of which was set by its first sentence:
"Medical experts realized long ago that there's no point in guessing how low Dr. Mehment Oz will sink in pushing patent cures, fad diets and unproven health 'miracles' on his Oprah-produced TV show. But his appearance this week in an NFL promotional campaign looks like some sort of a milestone."
L.A. Times writer Michael Hiltzik went on to critique a 30-second advertising spot featuring Dr. Oz that first aired during Sunday's Denver-Washington game. The spot was part of the NFL's "Together We Make Football" campaign, in which celebrities and other public figures praise what they see to be the sport's attributes. Other people featured in the same campaign include L.L. Cool J, Condoleezza Rice, Joe Montana and Whoopi Goldberg.
In Oz's case, the doctor—who, by his own account, played football in high school and college--said the game had changed his life, taught him invaluable lessons and made him a better man. He expressed his pride that his high-school-age son has taken up the game, and described his fatherly pride at seeing his son score his first tackle.
Oz says in the spot, "When my son Oliver told us he wanted to play football, we were thrilled."
Hiltzik faults Dr. Oz not only for having failed to mention the risk of brain injury but the NFL's recent $765 million settlement of a suit brought by thousands of former players claiming brain injury.
Oz, says Hiltzik, also did not mention the fact that he had received consideration for having made the spot. Oz later confirmed, in an interview with Advertising Age, that the NFL had offered him the same consideration that the other participants in the campaign received: a donation of $20,000 to any charity of their choice plus two free tickets to the Super Bowl.
On Tuesday, Oz gave the interview to Advertising Age, when he was in Chicago to speak at a football safety clinic for mothers of high school players, hosted by the Chicago Bears and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Referring to his having failed to mention the risk of injury, he asked,"How do you put a disclaimer in a 22-second piece about something that you like doing?" He told Ad Age he had called the NFL about "the opportunity to save brains" long before the NFL had asked for his endorsement of the sport. He said that at the time he agreed to participate in the campaign he was unaware of the NFL's offer of free tickets and a charitable donation. He says his $20,000 will go to HealthCorps, a health and fitness charity he helped to found.
In the interview he pointed out that concussions are common in other sports, including soccer and baseball. His own daughter, he said, had suffered a concussion while playing basketball.
He reiterated his belief that football builds character and builds men. "Do you want to replace football with antiquing? [That] may not be the solution that a lot of Americans want to go with. I think there's a middle ground," Ad Age quotes him as saying.
A representative for Dr. Oz tells ABC News that Oz was correctly quoted by Ad Age and that their story accurately reflects his views. Oz, said the rep, for now has no further comment.
"If his comments are lost on people, that's too bad. He's a football player. His son plays. He believes the game is very useful—that it's a teachable tool for youth. He also believes it should be safer. There should be better helmets. Whatever way we can assist the NFL to increase safety, we will do it. The bottom line: As the NFL takes steps, we're standing by to help," the rep told ABC News.
Dr. Oz, he said, is qualified to speak as an expert owing to "a unique trifecta: He's a physician, he's a dad, and he's a former player."
Oz is not the only high-profile figure in the media to stick up for football's manly virtues.
Rush Limbaugh, in an April broadcast, defended the game. But he also said that he feared for its future: According to Limbaugh, more and more moms, made sqeamish by all the talk of brain injuries, are refusing to let their sons play football. He said he could envision a future in which the game ceases to exist at the professional level, when too few boys are taking up the game in school to later replace retiring pro players.