continued "I think it's a product that the world could use. If you can alleviate pain, or take it away from people throughout the country, I think you are doing a little bit of God's work."
So last year, when Parker was working as a batting coach for the Cardinals, he introduced McGwire and several of his teammates to the Freedom Formula, giving them free bottles of the pills. When People First's Allen -- or "Doc," as Parker calls him -- found out that members of the team were using the Freedom Formula, he asked Parker to get some snapshots.
"Doc wanted pictures of the guys," Parker says. "So I was with a bunch of guys -- Brian Jordan, DeLino DeShields, Ray Lankford, Willie McGee, and Mark McGwire. And I said, 'Everybody's using the product. Everybody's happy with the product. What I would like to do is take some pictures to promote the product.' So that was out there. Nobody complained. I'm not saying Mark said, 'Yeah' or not, because I don't recall that. But nobody complained. So I took the pictures and I sent them out [to San Diego]."
Faster than you could say "single-season home-run record," the photograph of McGwire was everywhere: plastered across People First's marketing materials and reproduced by distributors and posted on their websites on the Internet. The company also used McGwire's name in a recorded message on the toll-free number it maintains to sell the Freedom Formula and recruit additional distributors for the company. The recorded advertisement remained on the toll-free line even after McGwire's attorneys wrote a letter to the company asking it to cease and desist. The company says that was an oversight. McGwire's attorneys say they're skeptical.
"The thing that's kind of surprising is that they don't seem to be very smart about this," says Huston, of Gray, Carey, Ware & Freidenrich.
"They don't seem to be doing what to me is the obvious right thing to do. Stop when you're asked and then talk about the damage you've done and how you'll fix it. I don't see those things happening."
(The recording has since been modified. All references to McGwire have been dropped from the ad. It now only mentions "St. Louis batting coach Dave Parker" by name, even though Parker no longer works for the Cardinals and lives in Cincinnati, where he owns a Popeye's Famous Fried Chicken and Biscuits franchise.)
The dust-up appears to be the first legal scrape for People First, a relatively young minority-owned firm headquartered in the Golden Triangle. Even Kahn, McGwire's St. Louis lawyer, admits, "we had trouble finding out a lot of information about them." Although the Freedom Formula has been sold since last summer by the independent distributors in the company's multi-level marketing network, People First itself only incorporated late last year, right about the time the company received the cease-and-desist letter from McGwire's attorney.
It isn't clear whether Allen, the company's CEO, is a medical doctor or not. Although some of the company's literature refers to him as Dr. Allen, the only degree mentioned is a Ph.D. not an M.D. An 18-page company overview lists the members of the management team but provides only the sketchiest details about their backgrounds and previous accomplishments. For example, Barbara Allen, the company's COO, is described this way: "Ms. Allen, a well-known authority on women's health and nutrition, brings her intuition and expertise to the business world of Network Marketing."
The company's mission statement includes an amalgam of New Age rhetoric and curious allusions to Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson. It reads, in part, "Our mission is to become a model for change. We believe a company dedicated to the cause of humanity and grounded in the principles of free enterprise will herald a new worldwide 'renaissance' in health and financial freedom." People First also believes in something called "Quantum Health" -- the concept is never really defined -- and is dedicated to exposing "the flaws in an outdated medical care system that victimizes dedicated health care professionals and, consequently, their patients. In the process," the company says, "we are committed to elevating Network Marketing to its rightful place as the greatest source of grassroots capitalism in history."
Two pages of the overview briefly describe the company's two products: The Freedom Formula, and something called Amazonic 10, which People First advertises as "an all-natural supplement that enhances people's moods, boosts their immune system and reduces unhealthy cravings." The rest of the overview is dedicated to the company's compensation program for distributors, a system so complicated it takes nine pages of diagrams and notes to explain it all.
Turner, meanwhile, says People First isn't particularly worried about the loss of its star endorsement.
"Frankly," the People First lawyer says, "it wasn't a very good name. Nobody really signed up because of Mark McGwire. In fact, there was a lot of confusion, and we had to really guard against it being confused with the other drug he was taking."