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/ February 3, 2009
Michael Phelps is a Human After All, But Maybe Not A Smart One

I spent a fair chunk of my day thinking about Michael Phelps’ bong.

I’m sure I’m not the only college kid who sympathizes with Phelps for the way he has been chastised for the photo of him smoking-up that surfaced in a British tabloid on Sunday. At roughly the same age, most NYU seniors are fearing unemployment while Phelps has already won 14 Olympic gold medals (the latter, at least, without performance enhancing drugs). Taking into account the 12,000 calorie diet Phelps follows during training, maybe the munchies were the only way he could work up an appetite?

From what I’ve gleaned, Phelps won’t be penalized by either the US or International Olympic Committee. He issued an apology – not actually admitting marijuana use – for the sake of his endorsements more than his swimming career. This whole scandal has nothing to do with his health – it’s about his image. One blogger believes the damage is already done – a quick search on Google now associates ‘Michael Phelps’ with grass instead of gold.

I’m reminded of Jessica’s article about the potential of skeletons in our Facebook-closets coming to haunt us in the future. As Jess so eloquently put it, I hope “this prudish nation of ours [will] suck it up and accept that people in college do drugs and fuck, and then sometimes those former college students go on to run the country.” But unlike the politicians of 2029, Phelps’ career coincides with the time reserved for youthful indiscretion. He can’t pull an Obama and break the news in an autobiography while he has million dollar deals with Speedo, Visa, and Kellogs. By accepting that much money to be a big brand image Phelps also must live with the responsibility of keeping that image clean.

So while nobody under 30 cares about the recreational drug use of a swimmer who deserves some downtime after a truly phenomenal achievement, I think the sponsors with whom Phelps signed a contract have a right to be pissed. I certainly wouldn’t want to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in something that is starting to devalue (like, say, an NYU degree?).