Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Tech, Money & Sports: Michael Phelps vs. The United States of Idiocracy

I've had it. That's it. I'm done.

To borrow a phrase from one of my favourite blogsters, Chez from Deus Ex Malcontent, just get out the guillotine for those who are attacking Michael Phelps. Or find some industrial strength twine and sew up their mouths. In Obama's World, morons across America (and Canada) need a collective, very hard kick in the ass.

It's not news anymore that eight-time Beijing Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps was caught with a bong. I won't go into the pros or cons of pot smoking, or whether this was simply misplaced youth having too much fun during an age of omnipresent digital cameras and viral news stories.

It's more likely that Phelps – a man-child of epic proportions who has been one of the very few bright spots for America on the world stage as of late – was simply careless or na├»ve enough to not realize how careful an international celebrity like him has to be when it comes to letting loose. After all, this is America we’re talking about: A country that loves to tear them down as fast as they rise up.

One false move, one ill-advised photo and it’s over. Human nature dictates we're more likely to remember one single bad thing than a thousand (or in this case, 14, counting Phelps' six golds in Athens in 2004) good things a person has done.

Unfortunately for Phelps, he’s caught in the perfect storm of a) being an alleged role model, although it’s highly debatable if athletes have any obligation whatsoever at being role models simply because they’re athletes; b) a very successful Olympian, and c) caught smoking weed.

Of course, none of this is about morality, in spite of what shrill Ann Coulter-wannabe Elizabeth Hasselbeck (full disclosure: if I were Keith Olbermann, she’d be on my personal list of Worst People in The World everyday) thinks. Her bully pulpit on The View notwithstanding, she and the reactionary forces at work in the Richland County (S.C.) Sheriff’s Office seem in a time warp when it comes to pot use.

Pot use in North America is rising, not declining. Walk-of-life folk openly support and watch corporately made stoner comedies such as Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, Knocked Up or Pineapple Express.

Most people with even a modicum of common sense aren’t going to get too wrapped up over a guy toking up when they might do it themselves (if Phelps was caught, say, doing a bump or shooting up, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, would we?). Hell, it’s even arguable that pot smoking is hardly a behaviour that should be condemned in comparison to the incredibly unhealthy behaviour of Phelps eating McDonalds' every day (funny how McDonalds is also a major Olympic sponsor, of course).

Naturally, this has everything to do with money.

Phelps is perhaps the single most influential brand mover – to borrow marketing lingo – in global sports today, aside from David Beckham, Ronaldo and possibly Derek Jeter. He has global reach with his supported brands – especially in, of all places, China (hey, the Chinese really took to Phelps even while he crushing the mostly Chinese competitors, strangely enough).

Sure, Phelps’ corporate image is no longer squeaky clean or predictably dull (only Corporate America could possibly think predictably dull is a sure-fire approach to business). But this isn't a bad thing for Phelps. He’s humanized himself beyond the superhuman feats he accomplished in Beijing. He’s more real now than he’s ever been before.

So far, Phelps’ sponsors like VISA are sticking by him. Sensible, intelligent sponsors will see this for what it is: a young guy who let loose for the right reasons at the wrong time.


Dennis Prouse said...

The Phelps story has been overblown, no question, but I think that is largely a function of how incongruous the image was. People viewed him as the ultimate clean cut kid, so this notion of an eight time gold medalist going Ricky Williams by hitting the bong was a bit of a shocker.

No one is going to be hurt by the occasional joint at a party, but chronic and prolonged marijuana use is really stupid given its proven negative health effects. The notion put forward by marijuana advocates that it is as healthy as eating an apple is ridiculous. Having said all that, it's my job to teach that to my kids - I certainly don't leave it in the hands of celebrities.

kinger said...

I agree Dennis that he was viewed as clean cut. But why on earth was a DUI convict viewed that way?

sager said...

@ Kinger: CCSS ('Cuz Costas Said So).

One of the writers at Sports on My Mind made a point that if you believe in justice, then you should hope Phelps does get arrested.

Hear him out. He pointed out, that as part of the War on Drugs (Bill Hicks: "There's a war on drugs, and people on drugs are winning? Cool!"), there was a tenfold increase in marijuana arrests (353,000) in New York City from 1997-2007 compared to the two previous 10-year periods (about 30,000 each).

Blacks and Latinos made up a disproportionate number of the arrests. Surveys often say whites use majijuana at a higher rate. In other words, a lot of people are already getting the Michael Phelps treatment.

I didn't know any of that until now. Nor should I, really, not being a visible minority. Abre los ojos, eh?