The eight gold medal-winning swimming phenomenon issued a quick apology over the weekend for behaviour unbecoming a Wheaties Frosties box cover boy after a photo of him inhaling from what appears to be a marijuana pipe was published in a British tabloid.
“I engaged in behaviour which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgement,” the Olympian said. “I’m 23 years old and despite the successes I’ve had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me.
“For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again.”
Make that, happen again again.
The pot-smoking gaffe, exposed by the ever muckraking News of the World via a photo taken at a South Carolina house party last November, isn’t the first time Phelps has fallen off his sports hero pedestal.
Four years ago, shortly after his banner eight-medal haul—only six gold that time around—at the 2004 Athens Olympics, the then-19-year-old swimmer pleaded guilty to drunken driving.
And while it’s possible, though unlikely, that Phelps will face any legal repercussions this time around, his public image—and more importantly his marketable, endorsable, kid-friendly image—could take a major hit.
The only thing certain at the moment is that Phelps seems to be in the competing clear with swimming’s governing bodies.
While marijuana is a banned substance for athletes in competition, the World Anti-Doping Agency does not consider it verboten during out-of competition testing.
(For the record, Phelps has never failed a drug test and even volunteered for additional testing during the Beijing Olympics to dispel any notion he was enhancing his performance.)
The United States Olympic Committee released a statement over the weekend saying it was “disappointed in the behaviour exhibited by Michael Phelps,” and that he “regrettably…failed to fulfil those responsibilities” that come with being a role model.
However, the USOC said that “Michael has acknowledged that he made a mistake and apologised for his actions. We are confident that, going forward, Michael will consistently set the type of example we all expect from a great Olympic champion.”
The International Olympic Committee also said Phelps’ apology gave them no reason to doubt his “sincerity and his commitment to continue to act as a role model.”
Time will tell if his sponsors—and fans—are as understanding, though Phelps doesn’t seem in too big a rush to find out. While he appeared at some promotional events in Tampa last week, he opted against plans to attend the Super Bowl in the wake of the scandal.