February 3, 2009
I’m sure you’ve seen the picture by now. Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps taking a huge hit from a marijuana filled bong at a party with other like-minded young people. Obviously eight gold medals and worldwide acclaim do not guarantee wisdom and common sense. But does Phelps’ marijuana misstep deserve widespread condemnation? Is this really a legitimate fall from grace? I don’t think so. Maybe that’s just me.
When I was much younger I too took a few massive hits from some ingeniously designed bongs. But then again I wasn’t famous and I didn’t have to bear the enormous weight of expectations of millions of hypocritical fans. Yes, technically what Phelps was doing was illegal. And yes, it wasn’t the best way to promote his status as America’s Top Role Model. Still it seems too many of us would rather castigate people like Michael Phelps than do our own part to insure that our own vulnerable kids don’t take the wrong path. We’d rather blame schools, TV shows, movies, and celebrities for the problems our kids face.
Years ago NBA superstar and now chastened drunk, Charles Barkley, obviously ahead of his time declared “I am not a role model.”
Barkley made that statement in a controversial Nike commercial. Back then he was roundly criticized for daring to utter that athletes and other famous people should not serve as primary life examples for impressionable youngsters. Suggesting instead that parents and family reassume that responsibility.
We love to bring down the famous. And yes many of the famous often make it very easy. But I ask you to look at the infamous Phelps picture again. What do you really see? I simply see a famous kid making a public mistake. The same mistake many of our own kids make. No more, no less.
August 19, 2008
Having earned eight gold medals in Beijing and 14 total golds over two Games, we are asking whether super swimmer Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympian of all-time. Some are answering that question with a resounding yes! But I say – what difference does it make? Why do we have to say he’s the best? Why do we have to say anyone is the best?
The fact is Michael Phelps gave America and the world an unforgettable series of races and experiences, shouldn’t that be enough? We don’t need to ask whether Michael Phelps is really better than Jesse Owens or whether he is better than Carl Lewis or any other great Olympian.
But we ask because we are a nation obsessed with ultimate achievement and winner-take- all. The cost though is that we fail to give due credit to both past and present achievements.
We need to simply appreciate what we are seeing, feeling and experiencing. Sports and the athletes that entertain us are a joy to behold.
But we also need to maintain room for the sports joys of our pasts and the legends we watched years ago.
So remember there is a place for all of our heroes and their accomplishments past and present. Michael Phelps join the crowd.
August 18, 2008
The 100 meters. It used to be the signature event at the Olympics. This is the event that Jesse Owens raced in 1936 in Berlin in front of Hitler. There was even a title for the men who won the race: “World’s Fastest Human”. But much of the allure of the Olympic 100 meter dash was tarnished 20 years ago when the explosive Canadian Ben Johnson tested positive for steroids.
Fast forward to Beijing, China 2008 – I am now ready to offer redemption to the 100 and crown a new king. The king’s name is Usain Bolt. The 21 year old from Jamaica, blazed the fastest 100 meters in history. And he did it easily. He slowed down, raised his arms in victory yards from the finish and still destroyed the world record. At least for now the new record is timed out at 9.69 – it will remain an Olympic record for another four years. But Usain Bolt may come back to the next Olympic Games having pushed the world record to an unheard of 9.5 or lower. Some believe that is what he could have run in the final had he not prematurely celebrated. His lead and his speed was just that amazing!
Still, Bolt’s victory was beyond stunning. He knocked off countryman and former world record holder Asafa Powell and the rest of the field so convincingly that it would be hard to see anyone beating him – ever. Usain Bolt is big, and tall and fast. He is truly the world’s fastest human.