By HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH – Associated Press
At some schools in the Tampa Bay area, students use foam rollers and vibrating spheres to massage muscles as they work toward the goal of increasing strength and flexibility. All this is part of the new program of physical education from quarterback Tom Bradywhose vision of a healthy lifestyle fuels a fitness empire.
The settlement with schools in Pinellas County, Fla., marks a foray into education for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar and his methods, including some that have been criticized as pseudoscience.
Physical education experts have raised the question of the suitability of this approach for school-aged children. But the program — and its connection to the seven-time Super Bowl champion — has spurred student interest in fitness and nutrition, others say.
“My legs are a lot looser and they’re not as heavy on me,” said Antoine James, an eighth-grader. “It really helps.”
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The pilot project built parts of the program into gyms and health classes at 10 middle and high schools in a district of 96,000 students. The TB12 Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Brady’s fitness business, is responsible for training and equipping the district’s staff.
The marketing push for the TB12 is, of course, free.
Adults who take the “TB12 method,” as Brady described it in a 2017 book, can meet with a coach for $200 an hour at one of his company’s training centers. Its product line includes plant-based protein powder, electrolytes, and vibrators that retail for $160.
“I’m sure one of the benefits is helping students get into better exercise and fitness habits,” said Karen Rommelfanger, an adjunct professor of neurology and psychiatry at Emory University. “But is it also starting to attract a new generation of consumers to their product?”
Pinellas County plans to expand to the remaining middle and high schools next year. If all goes well, the Brady Foundation aims to use the program as a model for other districts.
“Our biggest focus today is the slightly older customer,” said Grant Shriver, president and CEO of TB12, where the average customer is about 40 years old. “It gives us a small vision of how we could approach more people.”
The TB12 Foundation’s first education partnership began in 2020 with Brockton Public Schools in Massachusetts, where Brady played for the New England Patriots. TB12 accepted a dozen athletes from the region to its training center free of charge. The effort later spread to Malden Public Schools, also in the Boston area.
“I grew up where you lifted heavy weights and you know, you measure strength by how much you can bench press and how much you can squat. And this is completely different,” said Brockton Public Schools Athletic Director Kevin Caro. His district is currently contracting to use some TB12 staff as strength and conditioning coaches for student-athletes.
Most of Brady’s recommendations are pretty standard, including an emphasis on a positive attitude, eating right, and getting enough sleep. But some of his recommendations caused skepticism. In his book, he famously attributed his tendency not to tan to his high water intake. The Federal Trade Commission investigated his trainer, Alex Guerrero, before joining Brady, over unsubstantiated claims that a supplement he promoted could cure concussions.
Brady, 45, describes his approach as a departure from the heavy lifting gym culture. Instead, he supports exercise bands and what he calls “flexibility,” which includes an emphasis on flexibility and massage.
“I feel like everything I’ve learned in 23 years in football has allowed me to continue to help people in different ways,” Brady said Thursday. “I think it’s really important to start young, to teach people what works, as opposed to the way things have always been.”
Athletic trainers are moving toward a model that includes a mix of strength training, flexibility and balance exercises, said Mike Fantigrassi, senior director of product development for the National Academy of Sports Medicine, which certifies trainers. But he said he was concerned that the word “flexibility” was being taught in schools as if it had been scientifically proven.
“It’s a term they came up with,” he said. “Some of these things are not rooted in good science. And if you’re putting a curriculum in schools, I think it should be based on good science.”
Brady is one of the greatest athletes in the world but has no experience teaching children, said Terri Drain, past president of the Society of Health and Physical Educators.
“I’m just a little alarmed that a school district of this size could take on this celebrity program,” said Drain, who runs a nonprofit that provides professional development for health and physical education teachers.
In terms of diet, Brady advises avoiding foods from the nightshade family, such as peppers, tomatoes and eggplant, due to inflammation concerns. Experts like Eric Ream say many of Brady’s dietary recommendations are extreme and not backed by a “vast scientific base.”
Still, Rome, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, said there may be benefits.
“When you get rid of the diet of the average American eighth grader and go to what he’s eating, yes, it’s a lot healthier,” he said. “It’s fantastic.”
One benefit is that the Brady name gets students pumped up in class, said Allison Swank, an eighth-grade health teacher and Pinellas County track and field coach.
“They know exactly who he is, and it’s really exciting for them to be able to connect what we’re going to do with his program,” she said.
In pilot classes, students take a baseline assessment to assess areas such as their strength, conditioning and flexibility. They then set targets for improvement, said under 12 health and PE specialist Ashley Grimes.
She said districts across the county have reached out asking what it’s all about and if they can do it too.
The program does not use Brady’s book as a textbook, stressed Ben Wieder, a member of the Pinellas Education Foundation, who uses TB12 himself and approached the foundation about bringing the program to the district.
“Tom Brady is eating avocado ice cream. Like, we don’t teach you to eat avocado ice cream,” Wieder said. Most of the science-based elements of the curriculum are aligned with Florida’s educational standards, he said. “I think if you looked at the book. you’re probably saying that 90, 95% of the content is universally recognized.’
Associated Press reporter Rob Maadi contributed from Tampa, Florida.
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