Up to the Challenge (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday June 27, 2007 12:21PM; Updated: Wednesday June 27, 2007 1:55PM
Sure, Shaq's the guy Pat Riley once threatened to dump off his roster if he didn't dump a whole bunch of pounds. Shaq was still Kobe Bryant's teammate when Bryant cavalierly called him "fat and out of shape," and Shaq the Weight Watcher has this week been roundly ridiculed on sports pages. The producers even left in a bit where center Michael Doleac, hearing Shaq talk about the show at Heat training camp, looks at his buddy and asks, "Are you going to follow your own advice?"
Questions predictably turned to his own weight during Shaq's conference call this week, and the Big Fella predictably got defensive, insisting he had a body fat percentage of 14 while calling himself "a freak of nature." Truth is, Shaq's size is freakish. But he's not one of those physical specimens who really is a freak of nature. And let's think about this a minute: who would you rather have encouraging you along -- a dude who has to work at it himself (like Shaq) or one who was born with Adonis' metabolism (like Kevin Garnett)?
"He definitely works at it," Bauer said.
The day after Bauer first met Shaq's charges, one of the boys ordered pizza from his favorite parlor, the establishment that gives you a bin of liquid butter sauce for dipping. The 11-year old ate six slices, dipping every last bite in that butter. Officially horrified, Bauer turned to Shaq, looked up his seven-foot body and said, "You can't eat six slices of pizza, can you?"
"He just shot me a look," Bauer said, giggling all these months later at the man who's dubbed her Food Hotline in honor of the constant e-mails and voicemails he's forced her to field.
"He really gets it," Bauer said. "He gets what Americans are going through because he really loves food too. He might not understand these kids who don't like to play sports, but the food piece he knows."
Shaq's quit shilling for Burger King and he manages to look embarrassed when he talks about how he hasn't yet quit his club sandwich habit. The way he commiserates with the kids is one of the best parts of a show that's sweet and heartwrenching. And yet for all the entertaining Shaq's Big Challenge does, it's just the smallest part of what Shaq's trying to do here. This week he's meeting with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist because he can't believe only six percent of schools in this country have mandatory P.E.
For the first time in 100 years, kids have a shorter life expectancy than their parents and that, according to Baylor pediatrics professor Dr. William Klish, is because of the epidemic of obesity. Forget the social ostracism -- overweight kids suffer from diabetes, breathing problems, arthritis, all sorts of troubles. Chubby children are significantly more likely to become obese grown-ups and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says the cost of that obesity to the economy is now $117 billion in direct and indirect annual medical costs.
Fifty-nine million Americans are obese and kids don't play streetball anymore. Three-hundred-thousand Americans a year die from weight-related problems and moms can't say, "Sure, go run around the neighborhood for a few hours." No one's biking to a park by herself these days and there are exactly two states in the country that make sure all their kids get some sort of run-around time in all grades -- New York and Illinois. Mississippi and Texas just passed bills taking the optional part out of gym for elementary age kids and the Oregon legislature's working on a similar one. But it's not enough and it's not happening fast enough.
"We're playing Russian roulette with our kids' future," Bill Clinton told the National School Boards Association a couple months ago. Childhood obesity is one of his foundation's pet interests and one of his personal interests. He very candidly begged that gathering in San Francisco by saying, "You know how kids are. We have to make it fun and interesting."
Which is exactly what Shaq's doing.