Pubdate: Wed, 04 Feb 2009
Source: Anderson Independent-Mail (SC)
Copyright: 2009 Independent Publishing Company, a division of E.W. Scripps
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Being famous has its downside. Just ask Michael Phelps. The young man who
set Olympics swimming records with eight gold medals in Beijing last
summer may feel his reputation is a little tarnished after some
embarrassing photos showed up in a British tabloid.

A few months after the Olympics, Phelps visited the University of South
Carolina. A photograph from a party depicts him appearing to inhale from a
marijuana pipe. Neither Phelps nor his representatives deny that the photo
is genuine and Phelps has apologized to fans.

Despite the successes I've had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and
inappropriate way, not in a manner that people have come to expect from
me," he said in a statement. "I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public
it will not happen again." Presumably he's made the same promise to his

In his book "No Limits: The Will to Succeed," Phelps detailed how a DUI
arrest in 2004 was embarrassing to him personally but that he was more
saddened upon seeing how upset his mother was.

Most of the reports we read quote teammates, old friends, even Olympics
officials saying that it was a regrettable incident, but they hope Phelps
learns something and profits from the experience.

Those who are most upset likely represent commercial concerns prepared to
pay the young man millions for his endorsements, ads and public

But they shouldn't necessarily call off the contracts just yet.

Yes, he should have known better and he is someone children and youth
likely admire because of his athletic abilities. But he's human. At 23,
he's probably more like the average 23-year-old than most parents of a
23-year-old would like to admit.

While Phelps' Olympic feat was  --  well, Olympian  --  it was the result
of training, sacrifice and sheer talent, and it should not be discounted
because in the off-season, during a much-needed break from training, he
did what people sometimes do  --  he messed up. There may also be legal
ramifications. The Richland County sheriff says he will charge Phelps with
a crime if he is determined to have smoked pot in South Carolina.

We're not excusing Phelps' behavior. Like everyone else, we hope he learns
from this experience and understands that, like it or not, he is looked up
to and emulated by people of all ages, but especially children.

We have a tendency to ascribe some lofty position to people in the public
eye because of their achievements in life. When you have achieved
something special, you're somehow held to a higher standard.

We can admire an athlete or an actor or any public figure all we want, and
it's good to have "heroes" these days. But in truth, we're all a little
hypocritical in our criticism.

It seems actors and musicians get away with many more "mistakes" than do
athletes, especially young ones. (See: Britney Spears.)

And real role models shouldn't be people in the public eye.

Parents. Older siblings. Other family members. Teachers. Police officers.
Firefighters. Veterans. Current members of the military. People who do
good things representing their churches, their businesses and their civic
organizations. Anyone who does something unselfish and kind, even when no
one is watching.

These are the real role models in a child's life, or at least they should be.

Before we criticize Phelps too much, let's take a look at ourselves and
see if we could stand up under the scrutiny he experiences every day.

We believe he regrets his action and hope he improves his judgment as to
how his actions can appear to others.

And while we're at it, why don't we all hope we do, too?
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