Taking The Side Of Jelly-belly Cops

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - November 08, 2006
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“Take a good look at yourself. If you are unfit, do yourself and everyone else a favor. See a professional about a proper diet and a fitness training program, quit smoking, limit alcohol intake and start thinking self-pride, confidence and respectability. And stop making excuses for delaying what you know you should have been doing years ago.”

This is good advice, isn’t it? So why was the man who gave it fired?

Here’s the story from the AP. Police chief Paul Goward of Winter Haven, Fla., took a look around his department and noticed a lot of extra poundage stuffed into the uniforms of his officers. So the chief threw a little of his own weight around and fired off a memo titled “Are You a Jelly Belly?”

Several of the officers took offense, filed a complaint, and chief Goward was canned.

Hmmmm. Does this seem wrong to you?

Goward made the point that overhanging bellies make for slower cops who are likely to poop out when chasing suspects. He said excess fat could lead to the use of excessive force should a criminal get the upper hand in a fight. He called out-of-shape cops a liability to the force and to their families.


But is it true? Should officers be held to a higher physical standard than the general population? Well, duh. After all, like members of the armed forces, police are charged to serve and protect, and to fight the bad guys if necessary. Being in shape could mean the difference between life or death for an officer of the law.

Actually, that is true for all of us. We should be in better shape, and I say this even as I force myself to resist the urge to grab a couple of the hundreds of pieces of Halloween candy we have sitting around the house. I’m going to get rid of it. But of course that means passing the sugary poison on to some other poor, weak soul - or worse, to their kids.

I have always been conflicted about the subject of weight. On the one hand, I object to the pathological obsession we all have with being thin. I think people - and especially women - should love themselves and be accepting of their bodies. Too often the quest for perfection merely leads to guilt and self-hate.

But of course, on the other hand, it is the very real problem we have with obesity and with the illnesses that attack us when we get fat. Staying in shape is a challenge too many of us fail. Even worse, our kids are following our example by shunning exercise and packing on the pounds.

So do I agree with the chief and his tough-love memo? I do.

Calling on his officers to respect themselves and take back control of their bodies would seem a no-brainer.

But as with all such seemingly cut-and-dried stories, there is more to this than meets the eye. The officers who filed the complaint said the chief had an abrasive leadership style and that morale among the force was low.

They said Goward was ineffective as an administrator and that the jelly belly memo was simply the final straw.

I actually hope something like that was at play, because I hate to think he was fired for giving a pep talk about weight. We need more of those, not less.

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