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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Michael Phelps Doesn’t Owe You Anything

Months after winning eight gold medals in Beijing and revitalizing American interest in the Olympic Games, a photograph of Phelps surfaced, apparently smoking marijuana out of a bong. The backlash from the public, U.S. Olympic Committee and sports media has forced Phelps to apologize. But for what?

For being a 23-year-old, partying on the campus of the University of South Carolina? For having a little bit of fun following months upon months of training, global spotlights and pressure that a non-Olympian cannot imagine? For being human?

The USOC has suspended Phelps from competition for three months due to the photograph. However, he wasn’t suspended for the drug, as the USOC admitted that “this was not an anti-doping” suspension. No, Phelps was suspended because his image was tarnished, and as a result, so too was the American swim team. Without Phelps, they would have no image.

In Beijing, Phelps proved he was Aquaman. Now, the American public wants him to be Superman as well.

Phelps released a statement following the release of the picture, and admitted it was him in the photograph.

“I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment,” Phelps said. “I’m 23 years old and despite the successes I’ve had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me. ?????

“For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again.”?

People are going to slip up and do regrettable things. Even the fastest swimmer in the world makes mistakes, even if only outside the pool. But this shouldn’t follow Phelps or be part of his legacy in the American eye. Who exactly did he hurt with this photograph?

The U.S. Olympic swimming team? Not exactly. After resuscitating the lagging sport with his summer heroics, this photograph can’t derail the swimming program, because he didn’t do anything outside of the rules of competition. If he’s not in competition, he doesn’t need to be drug free. He’ll be drug free and ready for competition when steps up on the blocks in London for the 2012 Games.

Did he hurt his sponsors? Again, no. Three of his biggest sponsors are Speedo, Visa and Omega. All three have supported their spokesman following the negative exposure, and have no plans to terminate their contracts with Phelps.

?Finally, he didn’t hurt the American public. As widely known and followed as he may be, Phelps doesn’t have a responsibility to act a certain way simply because cameras follow him. He may be a role model, but never asked to be one. The younger generations will remember his heroic win over Serbian Milorad Cavic in the 100-meter butterfly final, not the fact that his lips were wrapped around a glass tube outside of competition.

People weren’t nearly as up in arms when photographs surfaced a month back, showing Phelps getting a little too friendly with dancers in a strip club. And the public backlash wasn’t as strong when he was arrested for drunken driving in 2004 as a 19-year old, only months after winning six gold medals in Athens. Why not?

His public profile is higher now than it was in Athens, to be sure. But drunk driving is a much more dangerous and serious offense. Smoking weed in someone’s dorm is a little different than attempting to operate a two-ton weapon while impaired.

And groping women in a club? Oh, that’s just fine for our Olympic athletes. He can put his mouth on anyone and anywhere, just not on a bong.

The USOC is now offering Phelps a “refresher course in good behavior,” according to ESPN.com. They have already mailed Phelps a letter offering to support him, as though this photograph indicates that Phelps has a serious problem with drugs.

Wake up, people! The guy gets drug tested more than Barry Bonds, Josh Hamilton and Roger Clemens combined. Would it be possible for Phelps to have a long-standing addiction to drugs, and for it to go unnoticed? Of course not. Most likely, this was an isolated incident of an Olympic champion trying to relax.

Phelps doesn’t need to apologize. And if he doesn’t win in London, the same doubters will come calling, saying that Phelps’ night with marijuana in 2009 killed his 2012 chances. The man needs his Speedo, goggles, and 50 meters of water in front of him. He’s not asking for much, but maybe he’s the one that should get an apology – from the American public.