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Dr. Oz has partnered with the NBA, and that's a problem

Health education is a worthy objective, but joining forces with a known huckster is bad form.

John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA did a good thing on Monday, announcing a health education initiative that will get players into classrooms throughout New York City to talk with kids about, one imagines, maintaining a good diet and getting plenty of exercise. Famous athletes are role models, like it or not, and using the power of fame for good with an impressionable but smart young audience is an objective worth commending. Kudos, NBA.

Unfortunately, the non-profit that will help the NBA do this, HealthCorps, was founded by Dr. Oz and his wife. You know Dr. Oz from his three-alarm ads about THE THING YOU ARE DOING RIGHT NOW THAT IS PROBABLY GOING TO KILL YOU and various miracle drugs.

Dr. Oz is basically a legitimate and respected cardiac surgeon who moonlights as a slightly less paranoid Kevin Trudeau. He recently had to testify before a Congressional committee on his huckstering of unregulated dietary supplements he often claims to be miracle drugs on The Dr. Oz ShowHe's been eviscerated by John Oliver. Dr. Oz does actually tell his viewers that diet and exercise are the best medicine, but he does that quietly in between fits of loudly selling them magical beans that sometimes have harmful effects. (It's hard to know how harmful, because the supplements are usually not FDA-approved.)

So here's the problem for the NBA. Dr. Oz has used his fame and daytime syndication deal for good and for bad. He rakes in dough for selling fake miracle drugs, but he and his wife have also created, funded and likely scooped up outside funding for this neat non-profit which intends to teach the right message about health to kids. The NBA could really use the help of the non-profit. Dr. Oz, who has been hit hard recently in the public eye (see the previous paragraph, all of which dates to this summer), could really use the NBA. That's the rub: to accomplish its goals, the NBA has to help rehabilitate a huckster's image.

Is it worth it? The NBA is not in the health education business, so it makes sense to partner with more adept organizations, and to just supply money, player appearances and cultural cachet instead of building a program from scratch without any particular expertise. This is a smart partnership. If only the figurehead weren't damaged goods.

Fortunately, there are organizations with the same aims as Dr. Oz's HealthCorps but without the baggage, like Partnership for a Healthier America and Action for Healthy Kids. I guess the question comes down to whether we think selling snake oil should have social consequences and whether Dr. Oz's fame outweighs his infamy.

Should we expect our corporate institutions, like the NBA, to regulate morality, or are we asking too much?

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