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Screen grab from YouTube

Twelve-year-old Nathan Sorrell jogs down a country road. He's 5-foot-3 and weighs 200 pounds. He nears the camera, panting.

"Greatness is not some rare DNA strand. We're all capable of it," a voice intones in the video, an ad for Nike that ran during the Olympics, purporting to highlight everyday feats of greatness.

With nearly a million views, Nathan's spot – called simply Jogger – has yielded remarkably positive commentary on YouTube, where many viewers called the boy "awesome" and "inspiring."

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Not the case over at Time magazine, where writer Bonnie Rochman grappled with the possibility that Nike might have "exploited" the obese boy.

"Was this an attempt to tackle the stigma surrounding childhood obesity … or was it a publicity stunt?" she wondered.

To Ms. Rochman, the boy wasn't jogging – he was "lumbering." She pointed to Nathan's firsthand account of the video shoot. Speaking to a reporter at a local paper in Ohio, where he's from, Nathan said he answered a casting call for a boy "with a specific profile" through his middle school. For the shoot, he had to jog behind a Porsche that had been equipped with a camera and a boom mic. During the second take, Nathan upchucked his lunch.

"I got sick in a ditch," he said, noting that the "lenient" director gave him time to recuperate before they resumed shooting.

("It turns out Nathan is not actually an early-dawn runner," Adweek chimed in.)

Nathan told the Record Herald that his family watched the ad on TV during the Olympics. He and his mother are now planning to lose weight with exercise and a family diet. If they're successful, reps from Nike told them they might follow up.

"If he loses 10 pounds, is that cause for celebration? Or would it take a much more dramatic weight loss to sufficiently impress the company and bring the cameras back?" Ms. Rochman chirped.

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She also quoted David Katz, editor-in-chief of the journal Childhood Obesity, who complained about the ad by e-mail: "[Nathan] looks miserably uncomfortable, and as if he's about to topple over. … I would have preferred they showed his pursuit of greatness in a way that was not … so obviously impeded by his weight and so blatantly uncomfortable!"

Is the ad exploitative, or does it help remove stigma from getting fit, no matter what shape you're in?

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Zosia More


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