Then I'll get on my knees and prayWe don't get fooled againDon't get fooled again- The Who
As George Bush so eloquently said, "There's an old saying in Tennessee—I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can't get fooled again."
So what does that have to do with Michael Phelps showing up on the internet with his suck hole planted firmly on the end of an orange THC delivery system?
On November 4, 2004 a then 19-year-old Michael Phelps was stopped for rolling through a stop sign and making an improper right hand turn.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Not a big deal, I’ve got a couple minor things on my driving record. Hey at 19, I wasn’t the most caution or alert driver either.
Fair enough, but when the officer approached the car that night he suspected something beyond your youthful mistakes. The officer had determined that Phelps had in fact been drinking.
A suspicion confirmed as the officer stated in court Phelps after a series of sobriety tests, "The defendant responded, 'I know I'm sorry. I was just scared because I have a lot to lose."
Maryland drinking laws require you to be 21 years of age to consume adult beverages—but Phelps was not only drinking, he was driving as well.
Wicomico County District Court Judge Lloyd O. Whitehead said after Phelps accepted and 18-month probation recommendation as part of a plea bargain, "We learn from our mistakes, and this was a mistake."
Defence attorney Steve Allen described Phelps as a "remarkably decent young man." "Michael knows he's a role model and he knows he made a mistake," said Allen, who said Phelps' arrest occurred during "a brief period of decompression after the Olympics."
But he followed that up with an Olympic performance for the ages. We raked the rock garden of our minds clean. We left not a single footprint in our collective conscious
in reference to what may or may not have been the case against a then 19-year-old professional athlete.
Now before I begin to write what looks like to be an indictment of Michael Phelps, I have no personal issue with him. He didn’t take that Range Rover he was driving that night and use it to take up two parking spots at the Mall around Christmas; he’s never visited my house and put the milk back empty.
We were awfully quick to forgive and forget in the case of young Michael Phelps. But now at 23 years old, with 16 Olympic Medals—14 of them gold—we are outraged at this display of youthful indiscretion. In December of 2008 he was one of Barbara Walters’s most interesting people of 2008, and had told the Today Show's Matt Lauer that 2004 was an "isolated incident" and that he had "definitely let myself down and my family down. I think I let a lot of people in the country down."
Then, after learning from the mistakes of this “isolated incident,” Phelps proceeded to admit to "behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment." In the form of taking a big fat haul off a piece of plastic that I am sure had been given a clever nickname of some sort.
Now in a sport where unlike baseball, or basketball or any other major sport for that matter, Phelps the swimmer doesn’t collect salary per say, his worth, his income is generated through endorsements. My interest lies in how does this impact his earning potential?
Will McDonalds, Wheaties, Nike and Speedo walk away from Michael Phelps? They certainly didn’t four years ago when a then-19-year-old Michael Phelps picked up an underaged DUI in what he himself said was an isolated incident.
Most people are all for the deconstruction of a hero. What they seem to so easily forget is that this strike number two. When Kobe Bryant committed a crime, it was so despicable that both McDonalds and Nutella walked away from Bryant afraid that we would no longer sell the image associated with him. But here we are in 2009, and Bryant is back pushing everything from Coca-Cola, Nike to Spalding.
I guess at the end of the day, I am more disappointed in fans than I am in athletes. Our two-faced ability to call someone a criminals and a cheat, a liar and scum bag is then promptly followed by us buying their jersey, their McDonalds breakfast sandwich, or a ticket to see them hit home run number 756.
We love to create heroes, simply so that we can later tare them apart for our amusement and to the delight of others. Whether it be because of performance enhancing drugs or young acts of indiscretion, we look for our chance to build superman, and then to step on his cape.
We do it all so just so that we can act surprised and indignant. When we see a 23-year old smoking some pot we act like Chicken Little and proclaim the sky is falling.
We are the problem as I see it, not Kobe Bryant, Barry Bonds, or Michael Phelps. The problem I as see it is we are so stupid that we want to get fooled again. That the average sports fan wants to believe enough that they can throw their palms to sky ever time a prominent figure makes a mistake.
Even though the Bush administration has left for Crawford it doesn’t mean those words from Tennessee or Texas—or where ever the heck they are from—ring any less true.
So you’ve got two options, sports fan—either except these guys are human and they are going to screw up. Or convince yourself they’re not and turn a blind eye to their stupidity.
Because right now the hyperbole with which you’re going after this Michael Phelps story—well, it’s simply looks like you getting fooled again.