February 7, 2009
We''ve all seen the photo. Olympian Michael Phelps, with his famous face embedded in a bong. A good lawyer could spin a whirl of doubts about the image. No smoke, no certainty of what he is inhaling. Or is he inhaling? The liquid at the bottom of the glass is a warm golden color. Perhaps it is fine southern mash bourbon, or cinnamon tea, or one of those trendy new flavors of oxygen. Well, it would take a pretty good lawyer to convince anyone of innocence in this case.
An argument could be made for the legalization of marijuana. Phelps is considered one of the finest swimmers in the world. The weight of medals around his neck is tricky to argue with. Did marijuana use slow him down? That''s tough to imagine.
There is much talk about him losing endorsements. He''s only made $20 million so far. Maybe he''ll just have to eke by on that.
Last week, WCBI took to the streets of Columbus asking people about "Phelps-gate." Everyone interviewed used the term, "role model." Why?
Why should a 23-year-old be our role model? OK, he can swim. That is a natural ability, polished with years of training. Very nice.
We reward football players with millions of dollars. So often they disappoint us with life choices that include criminal behavior, violence and animal cruelty. Drug use is small potatoes in their heady realm. Yet, they are called "role models."
Athletes, in general, are people who have focused on the development of feats of strength. They are goal-oriented and single-minded in objective. So few concentrate any energy on the intellect or the spirit. There are, of course, exceptions.
My criticism is not of those personal choices. It is that we choose to deify unextraordinary humans on the basis of musculature and exceptional income.
The world is filled with people who deserve esteem. Teachers devote their lives to a task that must sometimes seem hopeless. Heaven knows, they don''t do it for the money. Our police and firefighters risk their lives every day. Yet, we never see them drive around in million-dollar sports cars. I suppose that uniform allowance is reward enough.
Does anyone know Millard Fuller? He became a millionaire in his 20s, and then devoted his wealth and his life to housing the homeless. He is the founder of Habitat For Humanity. Now there is someone to admire.
Our new president has implemented lectures on ethics for his staff. It seems a bit sad that this would be needed. These are some of the best educated, most accomplished adults in our country. You''d think they would be clear on ethics by now. However, it surely can''t hurt.
Maybe we all need a class on what''s really important. Or, I should say "who" is really important. As a society, we bestow titles like "hero," and "role model" a bit too easily. We are distracted by flash and glitz.
I do not expect Michael Phelps to lose much of his golden-boy luster. A nick or two in his medals will only add a lovely patina.
I truly expect his "role model" status to grow. Look for ads featuring a "bong like Mike''s," and the correct way to inhale.
I only wish we could choose a few archetypes who deserve our deep admiration, who have made their choices based on real value and on 24-carat rules.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina. E-mail reaches her at [email protected]
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.
5. Photo: MMSA awards COMMUNITY