Phelps Will Weather This Storm; Just Like Other Michaels Before Him.

Matt PicchiettiContributor IFebruary 9, 2009

Michael Phelps has three months. For three months, he will stew about how stupid he was to get caught with his face stuck to a bong. He might even regret doing drugs, but he most defiantly regrets getting photographed doing drugs. There are different kinds of regret.

Since his half-baked photo shoot, he has been suspended for three months by USA Swimming.

Wow! That takes some chrome-plated nads. How does USA Swimming stay afloat dragging them around pool?

Maybe they are taking the gamble that Phelps will refocus his energy, train harder, and flourish again in 2012.

Maybe the empty suits that run USA Swimming really are trying to make a stance with all of that Michael-Phelps-is-a-role-model-for-kids-and-should-know-better crap and thus earn the respect and support from the community.

Maybe they will get that support.

Maybe Phelps will give USA Swimming a view of his freakishly long middle finger and immigrate to Great Britain. Think about it, he can be a naturalized citizen by 2012 and the Brits will love him as the hero of the London Games.

Why not? The pound’s value is beating the dollars like Phelps beat everyone last summer…and he already has the “British teeth” thing going for him to help ease his cultural transition. (My apologies to the under-bite graced audience.)

Regardless, the pool is in BIG trouble. First of all, while Phelps is gone, no one is going to care about any sort of international swim competition. The rabid fans will, but rabid fans of any sport do not count. They are a given. The money is made by the casual fan.

Hockey fans, the most loyal of any sports fans, will always find ways to watch their teams, regardless of TV blackouts. But they always have. Real hockey fans will watch pick-up games played on frozen ponds. Notice the changes the NHL made; most notably, the addition of the shoot-out to settle ties. That rule appeals to casual fans with the hope that they become new fans.

Rabid golf fans will watch a Tiger-less PGA.

I know…I’m thinking of swimming as a smaller, less-popular version of what the PGA was before Tiger Woods crashed the party in 1997 and single-handedly made a casual golf fan base. There are a lot of people who do not like to watch golf. (I’m one of them.) But, there are A LOT of people who like to watch Tiger Woods play golf. (Again, I’m one of them.)

That has turned into a lot of cash for a lot of people. The PGA would club baby seals on cable-access to ensure Tiger’s knee heals. Anything to avoid its pre-Tiger TV ratings. Any lawsuit incurred would be paid ten-fold after Woods wins his first post-injury major.   

And this is simply because it is enjoyable to watch human beings doing everyday activities at superhuman levels. After all, we televise: poker, hot-dog eating, the home-run derby, spelling bees, and scrabble (Which is hypnotic to watch. Seriously! Watch it, but be careful!! At some point, you no longer feel like you are wasting your time. That is a frightening moment of consciousness.)

There’s even an annual video game football competition hosted by ESPN’s Stuart Scott! We watch other people playing videogames for money…on Time’s Square’s JumboTron. Something seems very wrong with that.

Regardless of what it is, so long as it’s done better than anyone else has ever done it, it will draw cameras and dollars.

Alas, I digress. Back to the point.    

When three months is up, and Michael Phelps can return to swimming, do not be surprised to watch more than a few of his records fall. I’d like to think this whole mess bothers him on a level that is more than personal. He seems to be the type of competitor who will bounce back better after self-inflicted wounds.

There have been others too, most notably, the Michael that ruled the hardwood in Chicago. No. 23 sometimes got in his own way too.

Or don’t you remember that? For a half second in the mid-90’s, the media was almost ready to criticize Jordan for his gambling habits. Almost. They backed off seeing that the holy shrine that is the Jordan mythology is not to be tarnished. Who would want to risk not being able to have access to the biggest superstar the world has ever known?

And that is why there were only tongue-and-cheek references to his gambling followed by generic assurances that Jordan was good for it. That’s an unfortunate media double-standard.

Now, it’s true that, in some places and situations, gambling is perfectly legal.  (Just like in some places and situations, marijuana is also perfectly legal.) But, do you really believe that ALL of the gambling that Jordan did was legit? ALL of it? Really? Please.   

Had digital photography in 1994 been what it is in 2009, pictures of Jordan in very compromising positions, would have without a doubt, followed him. (Yes, there is innuendo in that last sentence. Feel free to enjoy it.) Luckily for him and Nike, cell phones at that time still only made phone calls…weird, I know.

So I hope, for selfish reasons, that Phelps can relax and weather the storm. I like watching him compete even though I am not a swim fan…but a part of me would also like to see what would happen if he showed USA Swimming that lanky middle digit that says so much and proudly wore the Union Jack. I’d watch and I’d cheer, regardless of what was on the Speedo. So would millions of Phelps fans.

I hope that USA Swimming realizes that and can keep its head above water for the time being.