Does Embattled Phelps Deserve a Break?

Does Embattled Phelps Deserve a Break?
Posted by CN Staff on February 03, 2009 at 05:13:47 PT
By The Associated Press
Source: Associated Press
New York -- A young man appears to be smoking pot at a party. Big deal, right? Our new president has freely admitted doing just that in his youth - inhaling, too - and it didn't derail him one bit. So should we expect more of Michael Phelps?It depends on what we want and expect our youthful role models to be: perfect, or flawed like the rest of us. And so as the Olympic swimmer's many corporate sponsors were wrestling with their options Monday, a day after an embarrassing photo emerged of the decorated athlete appearing to inhale from a bong, some were looking at the bright side.
"We should grab this teachable moment," said Lisa Bain, executive editor of Parenting magazine. "It's a good opportunity to talk to your kids about role models. They're human. They're not gods.""Any conversation you can have with your kids about the choices people make, especially those they hold up as role models, is a good thing," Bain said.To her and to many others, there's no question that Phelps is a role model for young kids, as opposed to, say, a mere celebrity endorser. Only role models appear on Kellogg's cereal boxes, for example. And that complicates the problems for this young man, whose journey to eight gold medals in Beijing last year captivated the world."Breakfast cereal - that's really speaking to kids between 6 and 12," said Marian Salzman, known as a trendspotter in the advertising industry. "He has big, important deals, in a terrible economy. This is just wacky."But that doesn't mean Phelps, 23, doesn't deserve a break, says Salzman, chief marketing officer of the Porter Novelli public relations firm. She blames his handlers, who should have done a much better job protecting him from the foibles of youth, from newly won freedom, and from piles of money."He's probably a nice boy who didn't get enough guidance," said Salzman - especially after a drunken driving arrest following the 2004 Olympics. "I think he accomplished that huge dream in Beijing, and then his people just relaxed."Of course, smoking pot, assuming that's what Phelps was inhaling from that bong, is not nearly as serious as endangering lives on the road.Indeed, perceptions of marijuana use have changed since 1987, when federal appellate judge Douglas Ginsburg withdrew from consideration for the Supreme Court after reports surfaced about his smoking marijuana while a student and a law professor.In 1992, candidate Bill Clinton admitted he'd tried it as a student in England, didn't like it, and, famously, didn't inhale. Fast forward to 2006, when Barack Obama said just as famously: "I inhaled frequently. That was the point."Still, as Bain points out, "No matter what we may have done in our youth, you can't be saying to kids that it's not so bad. First, it's illegal. And also, it can lead people to make bad choices."The Phelps affair is sure to revive the debate over whether athletes should even be considered role models. "I don't think they are," Salzman said. "We have a tendency to deify people who are great at one thing. We assume they're great at everything. When we want them to be infallible, aspirational, perfect, it never works."Especially in 2009, when a simple visit to a party can be recorded on a cell phone camera. "The whole question of role models is a big problem in the age of 24/7 connectivity," she said.So maybe our expectations of a 23-year-old exploring his freedom and new celebrity are too great. On the other hand, Phelps signed contracts with morals and behavior clauses, which allow sponsors to cancel deals over egregious behavior, noted Carol Weston, an author of books for young girls and the advice columnist for Girls' Life magazine."He knew he was being hired not just because of his accomplishments in the pool, but also for his ongoing behavior in public," Weston said. "It's part of the deal."That said, Phelps' apology sounded genuine to her. "It wasn't the lame, 'sorry-if-anyone-got-offended' kind," she said. And in the athlete's defense, she added: "I often think, 'Wow, he spent a lot of time underwater. When did he even get to hang out with friends?'"It remains to be seen what happens with Phelps' sponsors. Apparel company Speedo, luxury Swiss watchmaker Omega and sports beverage PureSport all say they support him. But other big sponsors, such as Visa Inc. and Kellogg Co., aren't talking yet.His agency, Octagon, said Phelps has spoken personally with his sponsors to apologize and that the agency was encouraged by his sponsors' support.Weston, the author, fears that if Phelps emerges unscathed, parents seeking a teachable moment are going to have a tricky situation on their hands. "If this all works out for him, parents are going to have a pretty hard time saying drugs are bad," she said.Whatever happens, syndicated ethics columnist Randy Cohen sees a different problem. He takes no issue with possible pot smoking - only with what he sees as hypocrisy implicit in Phelps' apology."So the guy smokes pot," Cohen said. "For once I'd like someone to say, 'Yeah, I smoke pot, it's harmless and I enjoy it.'" Instead, he said, Phelps is lying by pretending he'll never do it again.As for whether Phelps is a role model for kids, Cohen dismisses the notion that any athlete or celebrity, for that matter, should be seen that way."The people who should be shaping our kids' conduct are parents, friends, people they know in the community," Cohen said. "Michael Phelps' glory is that he's an incredibly talented swimmer. Unless your child happens to be a fish, why do you want him to be a role model?"Associated Press writer Emily Fredrix in Milwaukee, Wis., contributed to this report.On the Net:News of the World photo: Associated Press (Wire)Published:  February 03, 2009Copyright: 2009 The Associated PressRelated Article:Michael Phelps, Hypocrisy, & Drug Policy
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Comment #11 posted by itsonlyaplant on February 03, 2009 at 13:29:45 PT:
I agree Sam Adams
Everytime I turn on the idiot box I see tons of booze comercials. In my own way of protesting, I turn the channel EVERY time one comes on. If "the kids" are everyone's great concern then why does society continue to endorse atleast one drug that causes untold misery on people every year (booze of course)? Booze comercials on every sporting event broadcast doesn't say to me "be responsible" it says, hey drink alcohol like the big boys and you'll fit right in with everyone else who is watching this show because these are your role models, but do it "responsibly" (BS). I am just so sick to death of the hipocracy in our society.
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Comment #10 posted by tintala on February 03, 2009 at 10:50:47 PT:
Freakin American needs to move forward, the country is in a *#*$&( crisis. And here they are focusing on why did phelp go to a legal party booze and booze and more booze , but thats ok, and take a binger,oh god the ski is falling, WHO THE F**** cares? Why does Steve Martin take Ambien and gamble and WiN incoherently. No one cares about that either.
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Comment #9 posted by Sam Adams on February 03, 2009 at 10:49:59 PT
Dg - the Chief
thanks, I forgot about the year he was with the Bulls at age 43, that is amazing.Larry Bird confessed to drinking heavily all season long, every season. He had to retire in his early 30's due to injuries.
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Comment #8 posted by dongenero on February 03, 2009 at 09:12:31 PT
comment #4 Sam- The Chief
Robert Parish won three NBA Championships with the Celtics. He also won an NBA Championship as a veteran player with The Chicago Bulls in '97 at 43 years of age.Nickname = "The Chief"  Kudos for the Parish kudos Sam.
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Comment #7 posted by potpal on February 03, 2009 at 08:22:43 PT
Scott Ostler, Chronicle Staff Writer
If that all you know about cannabis, may be a good idea to not be commenting on it. Or are you also cashing in?
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Comment #6 posted by FoM on February 03, 2009 at 08:00:45 PT
Phelps Took a Hit - But All Is Not Lost
Scott Ostler, Chronicle Staff WriterTuesday, February 3, 2009USA -- Most of what I know about bong hits I learned from Cheech and Chong movies, and most of that knowledge drifted away within minutes.But I'm pretty sure that Cheech didn't rat out Chong, or vice versa. When Michael Phelps shared some marijuana, via bong, with college students at the University of South Carolina, one of the young miscreants snapped a photo of Phelps and apparently sold it to a tabloid.On behalf of the '60s generation, I apologize to Phelps for this appalling breach of etiquette.Snipped:Complete Article:
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Comment #5 posted by Sam Adams on February 03, 2009 at 07:58:00 PT
then horrible irony
the laughable part is, of course, the fact that almost all sports in the USA are underwritten by the alcohol industry. Kids see THOUSANDS of beer ads by the time they reach high school, all designed by the absolute smartest advertising guys in the world to control peoples' minds and get them to drink lots of beer.And alcohol is literally toxic poison compared to cannabis.This article from the AP basically is corporate apologism for Phelps. Very paternalistic. Like the AP is better at living their lives than anyone else, what a joke.
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Comment #4 posted by Sam Adams on February 03, 2009 at 07:54:36 PT
I remember when Robert Parish, NBA basketball all-star for Celtics, got busted with a large amount of cannabis.He apologized profusely to the fans....for getting caught. He never once said "I'll never do it again" or "I made a mistake" etc. I was really proud of him
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Comment #3 posted by Garry Minor on February 03, 2009 at 07:06:01 PT:
Dang it!
It sure is going to be more difficult for Mr. Phelps to catch a buzz from now on!
And how sad that these articles want to continue to make him out to be somehow "morally lacking" and therefore "sorry" for his "poor behavior" for simply partaking of an herb that half the country uses and should not be a crime in the first place.
I say instead of putting him down, we say Bravo Mr. Phelps, you're alright! Swim on brother!
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on February 03, 2009 at 05:36:04 PT
Growing up is so darn exciting and full of experimentation. Even the Amish cut their youth slack. We are a modern and sophiscated society and how can a person so young be held to a standard of role model when he hasn't experienced much of life yet? We shouldn't have to conform to a standard that is made by corporate sponsors.
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on February 03, 2009 at 05:22:54 PT
Role Models
I wish I knew what they think a role model is. 
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