Sunday, February 1, 2009

Feet of clay

Oh, wow. In a blisteringly embarrassing example of how people need to remember that all pop culture icons are just as human as the rest of us and that we all put on our Speedos one leg at a time, photographs of Michael Phelps with his face stuck down in a bong roughly the size of a factory smokestack have been published all over the internet and all over the television news, both local and national. The date of the illicit and illegal bong hittage, which Phelps has admitted to, was about three months after his unprecedented eight-gold-medal win at the Olympics last summer.

After being heralded as a role model from sea to shining sea and an example to Our Youth of what sterling character, perseverance, toughness and a solid work ethic can do, Michael has some 'splaining to do. I wonder about his mother right now, what she's thinking, what she's doing. I know what I'd be thinking. And I know roughly what I would be doing, other than hiding from the neighbors. I'd be making a speech, oh yes I would. And it would start with these six words: How could you be so stupid?

The irony of this is that the girls and I saw a really interesting Above the Influence television ad titled "Achievements" the other day, enumerating all the great things that can happen to you when you smoke pot. It featured a bunch of kids announcing some of their proudest moments as pot smokers. It was funny in parts, serious in others.

One girl stated with modest pride, "I made straight D's," gesturing to her report card, which was stuck up on the refrigerator with a magnet.

A boy said, "I left my ex-girlfriend twenty-seven messages last night."

One boy said, "I ditch my friends and let them find their own way home," while another admitted, "I let people draw on me." That showed a stoner lying on a couch while his fellow partiers decorated his face with Sharpies. Which are, you know, indelible.

"I stole from my little sister," a different boy declared with a proud smile, and then a final girl added, "I made my mother cry."

So what could Michael Phelps add to this commercial? "I won eight gold medals swimming for the United States"? No, no, it doesn't quite fit, does it?

But I bet "I made my mother cry" sure does.

According to AP National writer Paul Newberry, Michael has stated that his behavior was "regrettable" and that it showed "bad judgment," which I don't think anyone will argue with. It's a shame that those medals got tarnished so quickly, because now every memory of his victorious wins in the water is going to have that image of him sucking in a lungful of weed superimposed over it. Life is very hard sometimes, and I have a feeling that Michael is just now finding out how difficult it can be.

For instance, I'm thinking about all those product endorsements Michael scored when he was America's Golden Boy, back all those, ohhhh, five months ago. How many of those companies are going to want their products represented by a person whose picture was plastered all over the internet doing something illegal? It was great going when we all took note of Michael standing poolside with his swimsuit and his cap and all his medals strewn around his neck; it seems somewhat different to see him with his mouth all up in that bong's business, sucking up some smoke.

You know why? It's because of that old adage: A picture is worth a thousand words. And so far, how many words has Michael used? You can click here to read his entire apology, which I clocked as sixty-one words -- and I even gave him two extras as freebies for use of the contractions I've and I'm. That's a lot less than a thousand words, and let's face it: The picture of Michael and the marijuana is a lot more powerful than the one of Michael and the medals.

It's not like he's the sort of athlete who has a salary to rely on, like a professional baseball, football or basketball player. All his money comes from those product endorsements. And I can't imagine that many -- or any -- of those companies are going to be all that anxious to have their products represented by him now.

Here's the News of the World (UK) article that broke the story: What a Dope

And here's the Above the Influence commercial I saw with the girls: Achievements

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