Did Michael Phelps shock you? The world’s stunned audience last August wanted to squeeze out every last drop of the swimmer’s life to try and understand the man who didn’t know how to lose. What made a college sophomore,a gawky,goofy normal guy history’s greatest Olympian? What did his mom bring him up on? Can we make more Michael Phelpses? How normal is he? Last week,we got another slice from his life.
This time,there was a British tabloid,some conspiracy theories,many gasps of shock,and a lot of smoke about a grainy photograph. Michael Phelps went to a college party,had a bit of fun,and smoked pot.
The reactions have been completely contradictory. One group,led by his now erstwhile sponsor Kellogg,and seconded by the USA Swimming,took the moral high ground. As an ambassador of sporting excellence,an icon watched,loved,followed by millions,including impressionable kids,this was certainly not the behaviour we the fans expected from him. So he has been taken off future cereal boxes and for 90 days,even out of competition swimming pools.
The other group went up in arms over the harshness of the repercussions that have followed,the three-month ban,the loss of sponsorship and credibility. He’s 23 years of age,for crying out loud,they said. Smoking marijuana might not be the most responsible of things one does,but one smoke at a party is not exactly deviant behaviour.
Phelps,on the whole,is not an average story. He was busy perfecting jumps and turns in the pool as a child,grating milliseconds off past world records in teenage years,and sweeping gold medals when barely into adulthood. We don’t all do that.
He is an icon,a person we admire. He definitely has responsibilities. But,while I’m not justifying the use of marijuana,it must be difficult to be judged for every step he takes,with our morality resting on his shoulders.