Michael Phelps' Career Shouldn't Go to Pot

Howard BurnsCorrespondent IFebruary 3, 2009

Memo to Michael Phelps: If you're going to do bong hits, you've got to recuse yourself as a role model and don't allow yourself to ever again be photographed while you're getting high.

It's hard not to want to give the greatest Olympic swimmer of our time a break for the incident he conceded happened two months ago at a University of South Carolina house party. At 23, Phelps is still a kid and if anyone deserved an opportunity to want to get away, it's the omnipresent 14-time gold-medalist.

We know the British press can be over the top, but even Phelps' herculean heart must have skipped a beat or two when the newspaper News of the World broke the story and published the photo of the stoned swimmer.

"This is the astonishing picture which could destroy the career of the greatest competitor in Olympic history," the article began. It went on to quote a purported witness who offered this expertise: "He was out of control from the moment he got there. If he continues to party like that I’d be amazed if he ever won any more medals again."

While he is just the latest celebrity to get ensnared in the hypocrisy over the illegality of marijuana, Phelps has been handled for long enough to know better. Maybe it's because he's been so managed that he needed to bust out; nevertheless, he's more than bright enough to know how fleeting success can be. He must realize that his seemingly endless pipeline of endorsement riches could conceivably dry up like an empty pool.

We credit Phelps (and his handlers) for wasting no time in fessing up and expressing remorse, and applaud the International Olympic Committee and sponsors such as Omega and Speedo for continuing to stand by him.

At a time when we need people to root for, it makes little sense to watch a career get torn down over a few tokes from a bong. We trust Phelps learned his lesson. What it should teach the rest of us is all of our heroes have flaws.