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Is Tiger Woods Attracting Unnecessary Controversy with MusclePharm Sponsorship?

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Is Tiger Woods Attracting Unnecessary Controversy with MusclePharm Sponsorship?
USA TODAY Sports

More than a few major titles separate Tiger Woods from Jack Nicklaus.

With his latest endorsement of sports nutrition company MusclePharm, Tiger has solidified his standing as golf’s preeminent fitness guru.  MP is now part of a stable of Tiger brands that includes Upper Deck, Nike Golf, NetJets, TLC Laser Eye Centers and Golf Digest.  Woods lost AT&T and Buick after his notorious marital infidelity in 2009.

This sort of sponsorship is something you would never see Jack and his generation of beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking, gut-toting competitors doing.  Fitness nut Gary Player was the exception to the rule, but his example never seemed to be followed by his peers.

Tiger’s endorsement begins with a new bag bearing a prominent MP logo and will extend into a full line of sports nutrients under the Tiger Woods name.

In doing so, Tiger inevitably raises questions about the validity of supplements.  Just how effective are they?  In this age of steroid abuse and drug testing, is it prudent for someone of Tiger’s stature to endorse supplements?  Or is this just part of the fitness revolution and thus the evolution of the fit golfer?

Karen Crouse of The New York Times addressed some of those questions: 

In the fields of nutrition and science, supplements fall on the hazard line, with officials divided on whether they are O.K. or out of bounds. The subtext is serious, but the question was posed to Woods lightly on Friday: Will the neon green MP on his bag make him a can’t-miss target for random drug testing on the PGA Tour?

“I haven’t been tested yet,” laughed Tiger, who was still rehabbing after his back surgery when the announcement was made.

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, added the following while talking to Crouse: "Our goal is to take the stigma out of supplements.  Tiger Woods, maybe the most fit golfer that we’ve had, let’s show that it’s O.K. to align yourself with supplements. Just be safe when you do it. That’s the message we collectively want to spread."

Even MusclePharm CEO Brad Pyatt chimed in. "My long-term goal is to become the first mainstream supplement company to take the scariness out of supplements," he said.

But as Crouse went on to write, "MusclePharm's ascent has not been without turbulence. The director of marketing, Jeremy DeLuca, pleaded guilty in 2012 to selling misbranded dietary supplements containing synthetic anabolic steroids when he was the president of Bodybuilding.com, an online sports nutrition company."

Scary?  Stigma?  Turbulence?

Sounds like it’s time for Super Tiger to step in.

With this endorsement, Tiger is trying to break new ground in his quest to improve not only his own physique and fitness but also that of every other golfer and athlete while simultaneously changing opinions about sport supplements.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Colin Kaepernick also endorses MusclePharm

Illicit supplements have left a black mark on sports—e.g., Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and MLB—for quite some time.  By endorsing MP products, Tiger looks to educate fellow athletes about the good type of supplemental nutrition.

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The PGA Tour began drug testing in 2008, but few players have ever been cited.  Vijay Singh actually got a suspension for suspected PED use overturned, calling into question the entire program.  

Sports nutrition products are now a $1 billion business used by many athletes looking for an edge.  MusclePharm counts Arnold Schwarzenegger and Colin Kaepernick among its most prominent endorsers, and it is also the official supplement provider of UFC and USA Wrestling.

But no matter how you say it or who endorses it, nutrition supplements conjure up images of the snake oil sold by hucksters in the Old West.  "Drink this, and it’ll cure what ails ya," you can just about hear them say to naive pioneers.

Tiger’s message has been a lot different. He should be congratulated for leading golfers to slim down and muscle up.

This endorsement makes a lot of sense.  It is in line with his muscular physique.  It is also in keeping with someone who has had to endure numerous surgeries and rehab.  One could make a case that Tiger is a walking billboard for physical therapy.  Supplements appear to be part of his rehab and his lifestyle.

Fighting off his latest malady, Tiger is coming off a back injury that would put lesser humans on the couch for many months.  Tiger returned to the course within three.

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Tiger returned to competition quickly after back surgery.

Is MusclePharm partly responsible for Tiger’s quick comeback?  No one has said that, but the tie-in with the company came just before Tiger prematurely inserted himself into the Quicken Loans tournament way ahead of schedule. Too bad the MP supplement couldn’t help his putting.

Many say that golf is not a sport, but Tiger is out to prove those people wrong by pumping iron and taking supplements just like any other pro athlete would do. 

If there is one thing about Tiger that seems to be true, it's that he always walks the walk.  He is a noted workout fiend, so supplementing his diet and exercise with nutritional powders and pills seems, well, natural.  He may not be able to dunk a basketball or hit a 90 mph baseball, but don’t question his fitness and strength.

Thus, his multiyear sponsorship will extend far beyond a new bag.

"Woods will also be featured in MusclePharm advertisements and commercials. He will further support the brand via appearances and social media promotion," according to a MusclePharm press release, via MarketWatch.

A MusclePharm press release, via Marketwired, explained the following about MusclePharm products, which are sold in 35,000 retail outlets: "These clinically-proven and scientific nutritional supplements are developed through a six-stage research process utilizing the expertise of leading nutritional scientists, doctors and universities. MusclePharm is the innovator of the sports nutrition industry." 

Tiger’s endorsement of MP did not come with a statement that its products are cure-alls.  With so much noise over the years about illicit supplements, it would have been illuminating if Tiger had said something regarding exactly how he uses MP products.

Maybe that will come later.

Golf and golfers have changed so much since the reserved, tradition-laden days of yore.  Can you imagine Sam Snead or Byron Nelson aligning themselves with Kaepernick?  What’s next?  Will we see young pros such as Jason Day and Jordan Spieth bearing a rash of neck and body tattoos?

In the meantime, Tiger continues to break new ground as he seeks to become golf’s most titled player.

One wonders whether there will be an asterisk next to his name if and when he surpasses Jack’s record of 18 majors.

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