Victory could make Foreman earl of sandwich-eaters everywhere

Ken Rosenthal

April 18, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

It's National Weight Loss Month. George Foreman is ignoring that fact as he prepares for tomorrow night's heavyweight championship fight against Evander Holyfield, but what about all those fat people he claims to represent?

Is Gorge-ous George a good example or bad? Should the weight-conscious citizens of this nation rally around his cause or rebel? These were the urgent questions posed yesterday to Norma Malis, the chief executive officer of Weight Watchers in Maryland.

She isn't much of a fight fan, but Norma knows diets. Plus, she was willing to tackle the mountainous issue at hand. A woman from Overeaters Anonymous declined an interview. Her only remark on Foreman: "I suspect he probably has a low self-esteem."

That's a new one. Foreman, after all, is the man who said, "When I defeat Holyfield, it won't be a victory for George Foreman. It will be a victory for the guy next door who always overeats. It will be a victory for the Planet Earth."

The woman from Overeaters must have confused Foreman with Buster Douglas, who ate a candy bar in shame every time someone called him "Champ." Foreman, 43, faces no such identity crisis. The self-proclaimed "roly-poly preacher" downs his burgers with a heavenly smile.

So, Norma, how about it?

What's the scoop on Big George?

(Sorry, sold out of vanilla).

"I would think anybody who is overweight would absolutely say, 'This is the greatest guy who ever lived,' " Malis said. "If I'm overweight and somebody overweight achieves something most people don't -- at his weight and age -- I would think that's a really neat thing to do."

Still, Malis is worried. She preaches healthy eating, and here's Foreman claiming he won't endorse one hamburger chain for fear of offending another. Reportedly he's showing more interest in chicken and fish of late. Attribute that rumor to Kitty Kelley.

Anyway, yesterday's weigh-in might prove more dramatic than the fight. For those who bet the over/under, Foreman registered at 257 -- a mere 49 pounds more than Holyfield. Malis said the number is of no particular concern. Just so long as Foreman is healthy.

"If you're in good health and not upset with your weight, why make yourself crazy?" she said. "But as far as a sports figure is concerned, the key thing would be for him to be in good shape -- less fat mass, more muscle mass. That's probably not what he has."

Uh, no.

"But," Norma added, "if he's healthy at that weight and wants to use it as a way of attracting attention, then let him do it. If people think he's going to win because he weighs 260 pounds, that's not real. If they think 260 pounds won't hurt him if he's not in good health, that's not real either.

"What's real is if he can sustain those rounds and win the fight. Then he sends a message: Fat people can be winners. That's a good message. There are people all over the place who are overweight and winners. He certainly can be too."

That's a fairly enlightened view for a woman who makes her living helping people lose weight, a woman who claims she hasn't gained a pound in 26 years. Other calorie counters are probably appalled by Foreman's lack of self-discipline. Just imagine what Jane Fonda thinks.

Yet the way Malis sees it, Foreman serves nicely as a role model, not because of the chicken necks he devours, but the positive image he projects. The only problem is if Big George is out of sorts and out of shape. An embarrassing loss, she said, could be "devastating" to the cause.

Those enduring mid-life crises are growing accustomed to such disappointments -- first Jim Palmer, then Sugar Ray Leonard, most recently Mark Spitz. But this would be the first major athletic trauma for the Slim-Fast generation, whose members hardly relate to underwear models.

Call it the fat man's burden. Why, even the author of "Fatso" is impressed. "He's beautiful, huh?" said former Colt Artie Donovan, who recently dropped from 335 to 285. "He eats junk food like I do. But to me it's not junk food, it's gourmet. I bet I can eat twice as much as him."

That's the spirit. Now pass the chips. And the candy. And the beer. "There are many George Foremans who are healthy people, who are happy people, who are overweight," Weight Watchers' Norma Malis said. Tomorrow night their hero becomes bigger than life. Bigger, even, than his gargantuan self.

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