“Mongo only pawn in game of life.”

Possibly Alex Karras’s most famous line from his post-football acting career was nothing more profound than a bit of dialogue from a comic role in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, the role of a massive, supposedly villainous enforcer with a sensitive side that required a size-XXXL actor to deliver one coherent thought of sufficient surprise to be funny.

No one asked Karras, may he rest in peace, if he thought it was doing the reputation of football players a disservice by portraying a big, monosyllabic oaf in the movies. No one asked if his Mongo role wasn’t a horrible stereotype to be putting out there, as it would surely encourage people to make fun of the mentally-handicapped.

It was a comedy. He got the part. He got paid.

Which brings us to this week’s faux-controversy in the world of professional sports and the roles athletes play for money: Jordan Spieth, pitchman for Coca-Cola.
The ink hadn’t even dried on an endorsement deal some say rivals those signed by LeBron James and Taylor Swift for promoting soda-pop brands — tens of millions of dollars — before the first cries of protest from health watchdogs.

How could Spieth, golf’s new Golden Child, the No. 1 player in the world with his All-American Boy reputation and a natural grace and politeness and appealing personality, sell his soul to an evil purveyor of sugary death? Shame on him.

Well, no doubt they have a point.

Sugar-crammed soft drinks and junk food, along with lack of exercise, are driving the modern epidemic of childhood obesity and poor health later on, and a responsible agent might have advised the 22-year-old Spieth to choose something less obviously hot-buttonish to promote.

Like a cable company, or an investment firm? How about a luxury car maker, those greenhouse gas emitters that are hastening us to our global demise?

I’m guessing very few of the critics would have turned down what Coke was offering Spieth, on the basis of correctness. Or what Papa John’s pizza is paying Peyton Manning or what Tim Hortons (god save him: doughnuts!) paid Sidney Crosby.

Anyway, athletes have rarely been good role models when it comes to the products, or for that matter, the causes they promote. We should quit expecting them to be role models for kids, a lot of whose parents are failing in that regard and want someone else to blame.

To New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Coca-Cola is “poison for kids” but Donald Trump is a peach of a guy. Choose one, or believe neither. It really is up to you.

Handout

HandoutA scene from Blazing Saddles, starring Cleavon Little (pointing a gun at his own head).

Do I ask Wayne Gretzky for his thoughts on Syria, or Kobe Bryant’s opinion on global warming? Nope. And I’m not buying 2016 model year golf clubs because Dustin Johnson or Jason Day is trying to sell me on the 2015s being old technology.

Old-time ballplayers routinely shilled for beer and whiskey purveyors, and cigarette manufacturers (Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig). Even much later Mickey Mantle and football star Frank Gifford were selling smokes. Did their influence cause parents to switch brands and kids to start smoking? Maybe, in some small way, though I bet the fact that their parents smoked played a larger part.

Of course, those were the dark ages. We’re smarter than that now. But guess what? They’re still selling, and we’re still buying but it’s not as though we are, or ever have been, powerless in the equation.

Professional sports would be lost without beer advertising. Does it work? Maybe, on some.

McDonald’s might as well be a title sponsor of the Olympics, so ubiquitous is its presence at the quadrennial festivals that are supposed to celebrate glowing health and athletic excellence. And at every Games, athletes have been lined up alongside reporters to eat quarter-pounders and chicken nuggets and fries. We’ll all go straight to Hell.

Pro players endorsing junk food and sugary drinks are so commonplace these days, whole studies are being done on the horrible message being sent, and granted, no one ever lost money betting on the suggestibility of consumers when celebrities are talking up a product’s virtues.

So maybe Spieth will see the light one day, when the time comes to re-up with Coke or go in a different direction.

Even Karras later made up for his Mongo offences by playing a gay bodyguard in the gender-bender Victor/Victoria, so he was redeemed. Blazing Saddles likely could never be made today, making fun of Jews, African-Americans (definitely not called that in the movie), Irish, Chinese, women, politicians, drunks — it would be shouted down as an affront to modern sensibilities.
So perhaps Spieth, when he inevitably is overcome with guilt, will sign a contract endorsing broccoli, or brussels sprouts, or something gluten-free or made from soy, and the children of North America will no longer be slaves to the Coca-Cola conspiracy, lured there by a golfer’s magnetism.

Until then, we are only pawns in game of life.

ccole@postmedia.com

Source: nationalpost golf news