Kudos to Sally Jenkins at the Washington Post for the best article I've read so far on the Michael Phelps non-scandal. I thought I was going to read a humorous article about one of my favorite TV shows (The Big Bang Theory), not connecting the dots with Willie Nelson's favorite pasttime.
Instead I was treated to hilarious discussion of the gold medal winner and all-around America's favorite son. A little tidbit, you say? Ok, here's the first paragraph:
So Michael Phelps dove headfirst into the bong water. Is anyone really surprised, after all those laps? There has always been something submerged and escapist about the world's greatest swimmer. When presented with a chamber containing a hazy translucent liquid, he did what's become second nature to him. He buried his face in it.
But it gets better. "Squid Boy," as Jenkins calls him, apparently is quite proficient with a lighter. The British tabloid that broke the story said he "was out of control from the moment he got there."
Can you imagine how much dew he inhaled, with his world-class lung capacity? I don't know exactly what kind of killer nuggets were stuffed into the bowl of that German-made red Roor bong - why should I know such a thing, or even how to use a lighter - but they weren't cloves.And Jenkins recalled a previous discretion - underage drinking and driving - which everyone seems to have forgotten in all the emotion of the Olympics.
According to a study cited in U.S. News&World Report last summer, 42 percent of Americans have at one time or another gotten sweetly baked on hay. No one is condoning illegal activity - or admitting any. But frankly, it's better than drinking and driving, which is what Phelps did last time.Phelps promised his fans and the public that it will not happen again. Or, as Ms. Sally paraphrases from This Is Spinal Tap, "I'm sure I would be more upset if I wasn't so heavily sedated."
Jenkins makes some thoughtful points, sprininkled among her curiously insider-knowledge lingo. One is that parents should realize this is a potential cost of being a champion. "Being a champion is frankly not the most healthful career to aspire to; it's an abnormally stressful one." She also notes that "Phelps' public apology won't satisfy those people who insist their champions be superhuman ideals. But it's absurd to expect Phelps to maintain his brand of physical and mental discipline 24-7, while the rest of us privately anesthetize to our hearts' content."
I agree with the first - being a superstar isn't all glory and "cocaine and white women for everyone." I'm not sure about the second. Was it just "bad luck" that he was photographed doing something stupid? Honestly, what did he think was going to happen - that he could go to a party and be anonymous? And I think there's a difference between maintaining physical and mental discipline required of Olympic athletes and maintaining the discipline required of law-abiding citizens. Yes, he's an immature kid who made a mistake. But what about the immature kids who look up to him and want to be like Mike?
Fellow Post sports columnist John Feinstein writes, "Somewhere along the line he forgot that when you are Michael Phelps and you have become the world's most recognizable athlete, the rules aren't the same as they are for other 23-year-olds. You aren't allowed to make the same mistakes that others are allowed to make."
The NY Daily News, that bastion of truth, ran an AP story that said the local sherriff's office is considering a criminal charge against the Olympic superstar.
I don't know the answer - should we expect public figures to follow the law and be models of good citizenship for those that idolize them? Or should we forgive the transgressions of all-too-human celebrities?