This year's edition of Superstars, which airs on CBS on May 4-5, isn't much different from the 26 editions that preceded it. A dozen big-name athletes will hurl themselves over obstacle courses, deadlift weights and kayak through the choppy waters of Jamaica's Montego Bay in pursuit of a $45,000 first prize. None of that is what has insurance giant Blue Cross and Blue Shield so upset.
This year's Superstars is sponsored by Met-Rx, a sports-nutrition company that makes several products containing creatine and ephedrine. Creatine has been linked to liver and kidney dysfunction, and ephedrine is worse: according to the FDA, since 1993, 17 people have died and hundreds have been made seriously ill by supplements containing ephedrine. "These products have serious potential health risks," says Iris Shaffer, of BCBS's Healthy Competition Foundation. "And this event sends a message to young people that to be the best, you need to take a pill or powder."
IMG, which produces the show, sees no such message. "This is much ado about nothing," says IMG senior vice president Robert Horowitz. "Met-Rx is a longstanding sponsor." True, but Met-Rx has never been a Superstars title sponsor, which means visible ad time and logo placement. Adding to the stickiness is an athlete list that includes Olympians Jim Shea and Apolo Anton Ohno and NFL stars Jeff Garcia and Tony Gonzalez. The NFL and the IOC forbid the use of ephedrine; the NFL also bans creatine. "Our message to athletes is, 'Don't use supplements,' " says USOC spokesman Mike Moran. "But I don't think appearing in this event implies endorsement."
Blue Cross and Blue Shield thinks endorsement is implied, and it asked CBS to air public-service announcements to tell viewers of the supplements' risks. While CBS executives have reviewed the issue, they don't plan to air the PSAs during the event.