Nobody asked if he inhaled. Michael Phelps' picture holding a pipe was enough. That he was shown smoking marijuana from that pipe was more than enough. Now, the greatest athlete of our time is considering packing it in for good. The man who would be Superman, or at least Aquaman, appeared to be a completely ordinary twenty-three year old. He no longer lives in that rarefied air of "winner of eight gold medals." He now belongs to the group of twenty-somethings who smoke pot with their friends.
The immediate reaction was correct: Polite contrition for this desperate act. “You know, it happens,” he said. “When stupid things are (done), bad judgment is made and mistakes are made, it happens.” Phelps said the attention the photograph attracted has forced him to consider retiring but he will talk with his family and his coach, Bob Bowman, before making a final decision. Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year is ready to call it a career.
It's not the first time Michael Phelps has been in trouble. After the 2004 Athens Games, he was arrested for drunken driving, pleaded guilty and apologized to his fans. Remarkable physical feats aside, he's still a kid finding his way. The United States Olympic Committee’s code of conduct doesn’t apply to athletes once the games are over. The penalty may be more severe in the real world, with massive endorsement deals with Speedo and Visa that could disappear in a puff of smoke.
So far, his sponsors are standing by him, but what will happen to Michael Phelps if he decides not to swim professionally anymore. Mark Spitz showed up on the Sonny and Cher Show, and did a guest spot on "Emergency," and then he drifted from view. We're a fickle bunch, and now that we have a superhero for a president, Michael Phelps can start counting the days until we anoint the next "greatest athlete."