Senate candidate Herschel Walker has spent years promoting and developing health-conscious products with dubious benefits and a skepticism from the medical community, a review by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found.
Through the two decades that Walker has been retired from professional football, the Republican frontrunner has repeatedly tried to cash in on his career as a legendary athlete with a striking physique.
He looked to “revolutionize” the health market with products he said would prevent aging, help weight loss and even protect against the damages of smoking—despite little evidence, his company admitted in filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
In many cases, the products were commercial failures, cost Walker and his business partners millions of dollars and put his companies into deep debt, for which creditors have repeatedly sued Walker and his associates to recover, as revealed by previous reporting by the AJC.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Walker has more recently promoted a product that he said “will kill any COVID on your body” despite no evidence for his claim.
With the Republican primary less than a month away, it remains a question mark how much Walker’s history of dubious claims around health products could impact his sway with voters against his Republican rivals or against a general electorate as Walker looks to unseat Sen. Raphael Warnock.
About this coverage
AJC is committed to ensuring that Georgians are fully educated about the candidates for U.S. Senate and others who seek public office. Voters must make informed choices when electing our leaders. It is critical that voters know where each candidate stands on important issues, what moneyed interests might influence them and whether the candidates have behaved ethically in the past. Today’s focus is on candidate Hershel Walker. The newspaper will, over the course of this election cycle, focus on each of the candidates representing all parties.
In our coverage of the race for U.S. Senate, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newsroom will:
• Conduct deep background investigations on the major candidates with an eye toward past behavior and any potential conflicts that might raise questions on or provide insight into how a candidate might perform.
• Publish profiles of each candidate aimed at understanding each candidate’s personal life, background, influences and qualifications.
• Attend forums and debates throughout the election cycle so you know how the candidates are staking out their positions and answering urgent questions.
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An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll this month showed Walker with a commanding lead in the GOP Senate primary with 66% of the vote — far ahead of his closest competitor, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, who tallied just 7% support.
Walker’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Soon after Walker retired from professional football, he founded Renaissance Man, Inc. Through this company, Walker developed, sold and became the spokesperson for Aloe-Lu-Ya, an aloe-based drink.
In promotional materials, Aloe-Lu-Ya was described as containing “ActiVin”, a grape seed extract that the company’s marketing claimed protected against damage caused by smoking cigarettes, among other benefits.
Aloe-Lu-Ya was launched through Walmart in 1999 but was a “commercial failure”, Walker’s company said in a later SEC filing.
In 2002, the company merged with American Consolidated Mining Co. and was renamed American Consolidated Management Group (ACMG). Walker was appointed as president and CEO.
Through this new company, Walker and his business partners began developing Sunutra. Like with Aloe-Lu-Ya, Walker and his company portrayed Sunutra as a way to ward off disease.
In its marketing, the company boasted of the “phytonutrients” within Sunutra, a plant extract which included three to five servings of fruits and vegetables per serving. These phytonutrients reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and more, the company said in government filings.
The company noted, though, in its legally-required disclosures to Wall Street investors, the medical community did not share this view.
“These beliefs are not supported by medical evidence generally accepted by the medical community,” the company said in an SEC filing.
The company initially planned to sell Sunutra through retailers but then pivoted to incorporating it in the products of other companies. In 2005, the company announced in an SEC filing that it had partnered with North Carolina-based Nu Specialty Foods Group and would incorporate Sunutra into the company’s biscuits.
A little over a year later, the company said in another SEC filing that Nu Specialty paid Walker’s company just $25,000 and defaulted on its other payments. ACMG never found another buyer. The company would continue to rack up roughly $7 million in debt until, in 2013, the agency revoked its securities status.
Maureen Meister, a registered dietician and lab researcher at Georgia State University, said there are some benefits to phytonutrients and the ingredients of Walker’s products. But to portray the products as a way to reduce the likelihood and impact of more than a dozen different diseases and ailments is a stretch.
“It certainly isn’t going to prevent disease,” Meister said. “Certainly it can slow it but it won’t be a magic pill.”
Since the collapse of ACMG, Walker has continued to promote health and lifestyle products. In 2014 Walker was a brand ambassador for Livio International, a multi-level-marketing company that sold an anti-aging skincare product which promised to turn “back your biological clock”.
In 2018, Walker served as a spokesperson for Novagen, a testosterone-boosting supplement Walker said boosts libido and strength.
More recently, Walker promoted two COVID prophylactics that he said were EPA and FDA approved and would “kill any COVID in your body” in an August 2020 appearance on conservative host Glenn Beck’s podcast.
“Do you know, right now, I have something that can bring you into a building that would clean you from covid as you walk through this dry mist?” Walker said. “As you walk through the door, it will kill any covid on your body. EPA-, FDA-approved.”
Despite product stumbles, Walker has been successful on the speaker’s circuit, deriving much of his income from brand ambassadorships and promotions.
Between July 2020 and December 2021, Walker received $415,000 from 17 speeches according to his December federal campaign disclosure.
He also received more than $420,000 from a pair of sports marketing companies. A Delaware-based mental health care provider is paying him $330,000 this year to serve as a spokesman for its support program for veterans.
On the campaign trail, Walker has frequently expressed doubt about public health policies.
“These beliefs are not supported by medical evidence generally accepted by the medical community."
- American Consolidated Management Group, makers of Sunutra, in an SEC filing.
While many leading political figures urged Georgians to get inoculated from the coronavirus, Walker amplified a false tweet from performer Nikki Minaj about the vaccine causing swollen testicles and initially refused to tell the AJC whether he had received the shot.
At a meet-and-greet with conservative voters this month, he told the audience he didn’t “get one because I don’t think the government should be telling you to get one.”
“That’s the way I feel,” he added.
His record of misrepresenting his businesses, his history of domestic abuse and policy gaffes hasn’t affected his enormous lead in the Georgia Senate Republican primary race.
He’s so comfortably ahead that he’s skipped debates and forums with his Republican opponents and focused solely on a November matchup against Warnock, the first Black U.S. senator in Georgia history.
University of Illinois public affairs and administration Dean Robert Smith, who formerly taught a class about Donald Trump at Savannah State University, said that he sees parallels in the supporters of Walker and the former president, who has endorsed Walker’s candidacy.
The flaws of each candidate matter little, he said, because many of their followers often coalesce around a single big idea, often with an anti-status quo bent that becomes a unifying theme. As such, the “candidates become their only cause.”
“Despite those tumultuous (and otherwise damaging stories), it seemingly has the reverse effect of driving or solidifying support,” Smith said.
--Staff Writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.