Michael Phelps’ Drug Scandal – USA Swimming Does Well

By David

Very few readers will have missed the news that USA Swimming have suspended Michael Phelps for three months and stopped his pay for the same length of time. Well done, you guys in Colorado; I’ll admit I never thought you’d do it. I thought Phelps was untouchable: such a super star in your swimming universe that you’d mutter a few “bad boy, Michael”s and look the other way.

My skepticism was probably justified. Do you remember that shortly before the US Olympic Trials, USA Swimming’s Executive Director, Chuck Wielgus, said parents could happily get their children involved in swimming, knowing that in this sport there was none of the nasty drug misbehaving that went on in other sports. I can’t find the exact quote now but I think it included a reference to swimmers never getting involved in late night clubbing. It was always a dumb thing to say. Since Wielgus said it, Jessica Hardy has been caught with something performance enhancing in her system, Australian swimmer Nick D’Arcy has beaten up one of his mates outside an Australian nightclub and Michael Phelps’ Omega clad arm has been photographed clasping a bong.

I thought USA Swimming would continue with their rose colored glasses view of the sport; but they haven’t. Suspending Phelps and stopping his pay is an appropriate penalty. What Phelps did was dumb beyond belief. Given his status it was also a hugely bad example to young competitors in the sport. None of that means he should be punished more that anyone else. USA Swimming did the fair and proper thing.

Phelps’ apologies are beginning to wear a little thin. Several years ago – I think Phelps was seventeen – he was caught on a DUI charge. He quickly confessed and apologized. I was impressed. He was drinking underage and he was drunk in charge of a motor car, but he owned up, he took responsibility; it was time to move on. And now the bong. Sure, since the photograph he has followed the path that worked so well last time. He has apologized and publicly accepted USA Swimming’s reprimand. But at what point does the repetition of this behavior tell us Phelps is fast but he’s bad too? He must know that at the grass roots of swimming we are getting tired of explaining to thirty mini squad members why their hero is sucking on the end of a fancy looking glass tube. We’re making all sorts of excuses just now; citing words like mistakes and pressure. But keep doing it, Michael, and eventually we’re just going to say, it’s because you’re a bad bugger.

In that regard, USA Swimming’s decision has helped. Our message can now be, “Phelps did wrong and he’s been punished. That’s what happens if you do wrong.” I feel a lot better about that than the mistake and pressure routine.

Which is more that you can say for the clap-trap coming out of FINA’s posh office in Lucerne, Switzerland. They really gave it all the crocodile tears treatment; poor Michael he’s done so much for swimming, everyone makes mistakes, we want to see him swim really well at the World Championships later this year. Of course they began their piece with a “while we do not condone this sort of behavior” type message. The rest of it wasn’t even a slap with a wet bus ticket. You’d have thought Phelps had just won Mr. America. The guy was photographed at a party bubbling on a bong; FINA, that’s not a good thing. Are you sure there is not the sweet scent of something coming from your offices? Whoever came up with that public response should be fired for three months and made to swim across Lake Lucerne every day for no pay. Wake up, sober up take a look at what USA Swimming did and treat this sport with some respect.

So well done USA Swimming. Do much better next time FINA. And Phelps, for God’s sake, cut it out. Otherwise people are going to think you’ve been smoking too much of that stuff for far too long.