We were enthralled by his freak athleticism, his unbelievably chiseled body, and the way he zipped through the water like a shark with goggles. We talked about his diet and his workout regimen, imagining ourselves living the same sort of lifestyle that he has been living for years. We watched him with his headphones on, getting amped up and walking the pool deck before his races. We watched his mother and sister cheer him on in the stands, blowing him kisses and screaming words of encouragement. We watched him lunge himself off the block into the water, causing very little splash for a man of his size. We watched him win by enormous margins, touch out opponents by a fraction of a second, and even cheer on his relay on their way to a victory. We watched him take home eight gold medals at the Olympic games in Beijing, not to mention five world records. We were there. We were all there.
We brought him into our homes, into our families, into our lives. We didn’t know him, we had never been formally introduced, but we felt as if we did. We knew his smile, his voice, his swagger and we couldn’t get enough. We all wanted to be him, we all wanted him to break every record there was and win every gold medal in China. We bought his posters, laughed at his Sportscenter commercial, enrolled our children in swimming lessons, and watched Michael Phelps every evening for more than a week last summer. We all did that.
“What a great storyline for America!!” we would say. “This guy is representing us to the world!!” we would tell our coworkers and friends. “He’s doing such good things for this country!!” we all thought. He was beautiful, so beautiful and so very… perfect. He was on top of the world and we all put him on our shoulders proudly. Then we dropped him.
We’ve all seen the picture by now. Mr. Michael Phelps – the world’s faster swimmer, the greatest Olympian of all time, the Golden Boy, the American Hero – smoking weed. He has been dropped by sponsors, suspended from USA Swimming, and his legacy may be tarnished forever. But who is really at fault here?
We all thought of him as a god-like person, but in reality he was no different than any of us. He has flaws, makes bad choices on occasion, and his shit may not even smell like roses. He’s gotten a DUI, he’s probably cut himself shaving a time or two, and I am almost certain he puts his pants on one leg at a time. He has ten fingers, ten toes, two ears, and one brain – all of which are comparable to the ones you have.
Michael Phelps is 23 years old. He’s just a kid. The ones that expected him to be any thing but a kid were the ones at fault. What was the CEO of Kellogg doing when he was 23? I’m sure he smoked a bong at some point in his life. I know what the fundamental problem is – the role model factor. And on that level yes, Phelps is at fault. Kids look up to him, idolize him, wear his pajamas to bed. They want to be him when they grow up. Now parents have to explain to their kids what I’m explaining to you – Michael Phelps is human.