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At some Tampa Bay-area schools, students use foam rollers and vibrating spheres to massage their muscles as they work toward strength and flexibility goals. It’s part of a new physical education curriculum from quarterback Tom Brady, whose approach to healthy living is fueling a fitness empire.
The arrangement with schools in Pinellas County, Florida, marks a debut in education for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstars and their methods – including some that have been criticized as pseudoscience.
Physical education experts have raised questions about the appropriateness of the approach for school-age children. But the program — and its relationship with the seven-time Super Bowl champion — has piqued students’ interest in fitness and nutrition, others say.
“My legs are too loose, and they’re not that heavy on me,” said eighth-grader Antoine James. “It really helps.”
A pilot project has embedded parts of the program into gym and health courses in 10 middle and high schools in the 96,000-student district. The TB12 Foundation, the charitable arm of Brady’s fitness business, is picking up the tab to train district employees and provide them with equipment.
Marketing Boost for TB12 is free.
Adults who adopt the “TB12 method,” as Brady described in a 2017 book, can get an instructor at one of his company’s training centers for US$200 an hour. Their product line includes plant-based protein powders, electrolytes and vibrating rollers that sell for US$160.
“I’m sure it’s a benefit to help students develop better exercise habits and physical fitness habits,” said Karen Rommelfanger, an assistant professor of neurology and psychiatry at Emory University. “But does it start enrolling another generation of consumers for their product?”
In Pinellas County, the plan is to expand to the rest of its middle and high schools next year. If all goes well, Brady’s foundation is looking to use the program as a model for other districts.
“Today we focus on the slightly older customer for the most part, where the average customer is around 40,” said Grant Shriver, TB12’s President and CEO. How can we go to more people?”
The TB12 Foundation’s first partnership in education began in 2020 with Brockton Public School in Massachusetts, where Brady played for the New England Patriots. TB12 took a dozen athletes from the district to its training center for free. That effort later expanded to Malden public schools in the Boston area as well.
Brockton Public School athletic director Kevin Caro said, “I grew up where you lifted heavy weights and, you know, you estimate strength by how much bench press you can do and how much squat you can do. And that’s all. Kind of different.” His district is now contracting some TB12 employees to use them as strength and conditioning coaches for student-athletes.
Much of Brady’s advice is fairly mainstream, with an emphasis on a positive attitude, good nutrition, and enough sleep. But some of his guidance has faced doubts. He famously attributed his tendency not to sunburn to his high water intake in his book. Before joining Brady his trainer, Alex Guerrero, was investigated by the Federal Trade Commission over unsubstantiated claims that the supplement promoted by him could cause injury.
Brady, 45, describes his approach as a departure from lift-heavy gym culture. He instead uses exercise bands and something he calls “flexibility,” which includes an emphasis on flexibility and massage.
“I think everything I’ve learned over the course of 23 years in football will allow me to continue helping people in different ways,” Brady said on Thursday. “I think it’s really important to start young, to educate people about how things have always worked out.”
Sports trainers are moving to 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 worries about the term “resilience” being taught in schools as if it has been scientifically proven.
“It’s a word they made up,” he said. “Some of this stuff is not rooted in good science. And if you’re bringing a curriculum into schools, I believe it should have its roots in good science.”
Brady is one of the world’s greatest athletes, but lacks expertise in teaching children, said Terry Drain, former president of the Society of Health and Physical Educators.
“I’m just a little worried that a school district will catch this celebrity program,” said Drain, who runs a nonprofit that provides professional development for health and physical education teachers.
On the dietary front, Brady advises against foods in the nightshade family, such as peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant, because of inflammatory concerns. Experts such as Eric Rimm say much of Brady’s dietary guidance is excessive and not supported by a “vast science base.”
Still, Rimm, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, said it may have benefits.
“If you’re getting rid of the average eighth-grade American diet and shifting to what he eats, yes, that’s pretty healthy,” he said. “It’s great.”
One upside is the Brady name gets students excited in the classroom, said Allison Swank, an eighth-grade wellness teacher and a track coach in Pinellas County.
“They definitely know who he is and it’s exciting to him what we’re going to do with his program,” he said.
In pilot classes, students take baseline assessments to assess areas such as their strength, conditioning, and flexibility. She then set goals for improvement, said pre-K-12 health and physical education specialist Ashley Grimes.
She said districts surrounding the county asked what the program was like and if there was anything they could do as well.
The program does not use Brady’s book as a textbook, insisted Ben Wider, a member of the Pinellas Education Foundation, who himself uses TB12 and contacted the foundation to bring the program to the district.
“Tom Brady eats avocado ice cream. Like, we’re not taught to eat avocado ice cream,” Weider said. Most of the science-backed elements of the curriculum are in line with Florida education standards, he said. “I guess if you have to read the book. You’re probably talking 90, 95% of the material is universally accepted.”
Associated Press reporter Rob Maddi contributed from Tampa, Fla.
The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. AP is solely responsible for all content.