What do you think? Will Michael Phelps’s admission that he was indeed smoking pot at a party permanently damage his standing as a role model? Should his sponsors withdraw their support? I tend to feel a little bit sorry for Michael Phelps. His life has been so focused on swimming that I suspect he missed a lot of the usual parts of growing up, including, yes, making the occasional bad choice or dumb mistake. And now he has to live his life entirely in the public eye, living up to all our expectations that he be a superhuman hero, with, as the damning photograph proves, enough people happy to seize the opportunity to tarnish your gold. You might say, oh boo hoo poor Michael with his millions. It’s his job, and one he’s chosen, to be a role model, and he’s being paid handsomely for the privilege. And certainly with all his millions, he ought to have some smart advisors warning him that he will have no private life in public, that wheresoever there is a cell phone camera, he should assume he is on display. But really, imagine being in your early twenties, having spent your entire adolescence and early adulthood cocooned in a life that consists of almost nothing but training and more training and more training, with no room for even momentary faltering from the path to that record-making collection of gold medals. My guess is that Phelps hasn’t had much chance to cut loose and fall prey to one or two foibles of youth. So he was a dope, and he smoked some. Dumb choice, but I don’t think in the larger picture it diminishes his dedication or his accomplishments.
Addendum: today in the Washington Post, Sally Jenkins considers the same questions, and then some.
Update 2: USA swimming suspended him for 3 months and Michael Phelps talks with the Baltimore Sun.