I can't begin to explain my disappointment when I learned of the photograph showing Phelps and a bong. When I first heard that a photo had surfaced depicting an Olympic champion's lips around a tubular object, I was crestfallen upon learning that it wasn't Olympic softball's fire-balling hottie Jennie Finch. That's disappointment.
Once I regained my composure and gathered the full details of the incident, I reacted as most anyone interested in this story would---I put down my own bong, lamented the fact that a photo of me and my trusty bong had never gone public, and welcomed a newfound respect for Michael Phelps. We've watched Phelps inhale and exhale on his way to 14 gold medals-what's one more harmless round of respiration?
Phelps is a victim of the information age, burned by a cell phone picture taken by some sleazebag out for a quick dollar. Ten years ago, the photograph wouldn't have even been possible. Why do you think a photo of Mark Spitz holding a cigarette lighter to a spoon at a Modesto, California Tupperware party in 1973 never went public? Because phones back then were good for phone calls, and nothing else. What is this world coming to when a 14-time Olympic champion can't attend a fraternity party at the University of South Carolina without having his bong hit photographed and dispersed worldwide? That's an invasion of privacy, in public. It's appalling that someone would try to tear down the accomplishments of an American icon in such a way. Selling this photo is akin to pulling for the Russians in the Olympics. It's unpatriotic and treasonous.
There should be retribution. As they say, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." Let's take that one step further---a "hit" for a "hit." I say Phelps should demand a "hit" on the snake who photographed this bong "hit." Any red-blooded American who finds this traitor should beat him/her with a camera, phone, or bong, whichever is handy.
Don't get me wrong. Phelps wasn't just an innocent bystander. He wasn't practicing some newfangled "breathing technique" to strengthen his lungs. So much for the advice of Barry Bonds. Phelps made a huge mistake by smoking from the bong in the first place, not to mention placing himself in such a vulnerable situation. Phelps wouldn't stand in a prison shower in his starting stance in a pair of Speedos three sizes too small, would he? Then he shouldn't take a bong hit if he even remotely suspected someone would digitally document the occasion. Chances are this wasn't his first time partaking from a bong; I'm guessing he's fogged his goggles before. Obviously, he has no problem taking to the "water."
I doubt Phelps was so unfortunate to have his first and only meeting with a bong made public. Who's to say, when he was photographed, Phelps wasn't in the midst of the individual medley of marijuana, in which the leadoff leg is marijuana smoked in a joint, followed by a pipe? Phelps was probably caught engaged in the third leg, the bong hit, before he could move on to the anchor leg, in which marijuana is smoked through a snorkel.
And this wasn't Phelps first legal misstep. In 2004, he was charged with driving under the influence after a traffic stop in Salisbury, Maryland. This incident received little notoriety, because Phelps' fame had yet to explode, and it's been proven time and time again that a "PWB" (photographed while bonging) is imminently more newsworthy than a common DUI.
It's yet to be determined whether Phelps will face criminal charges in Richland County, South Carolina, where the bong hit took place. In other words, the Richland County sheriff hasn't decided whether he wants to deal with the firestorm of publicity that comes with such a charge, which includes, but is not limited to, autographs, handshakes, and photo opportunities with an Olympic champion.
Some news reports indicate that the sheriff's department has been making arrests in an attempt to make a case against Phelps. It's an indication that Richland County is taking a tough stance on drugs. In fact, they've publicly stated that if you do drugs in Richland County, and are photographed, and are a world class athlete, then there's a slight chance that you may be prosecuted.
So where does this leave Phelps? Well, instead of hearing the theme song to The Greatest American Hero when he sees himself on television, he'll now have to get used to Cypress Hill's "Hits From The Bong" as his unofficial theme music. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Heck, if he's smart, he'll have that play as he enters to swimming venue in London during the 2012 Olympic Games. I doubt any of the white people who raised a stink over this bong hit fiasco will recognize the tune, and therefore won't object.
Phelps has lost at least one endorsement deal and has been suspended for three months by USA Swimming, and the organization has also cut his funding for those three months. On the surface, it would seem like Phelps is up **** Creek without a paddle. Luckily though, Phelps is a world class swimmer and doesn't need a paddle. However, the swim back down said creek to respectability is a laborious trek, but can it be any harder than the work he put in to win 14 gold medals? I doubt it. Besides, Phelps doesn't have any tattoos, doesn't have cornrows, and usually wears his gold only for publicity photos, so the public should be generally forgiving.
So what can Phelps do to salvage his career? Well, if life gives you lemons, then you should fill your bong with lemonade. He did the right thing by apologizing immediately and admitting poor judgment. In today's sports climate, the apology is the new "innocent."
And while he may lose more endorsement deals, it's not out of the question that Phelps' contrition and commitment to recovering his good name leads to new endorsement deals. As of now, he's only had his Kellogg's endorsement deal extinguished. That's no great loss. Everyone knows cereal comes in boxes; Phelps should be pimping a product that comes in a bag. And is leafy. Maybe some sort of salad. Besides, Phelps has the support of the pot-smoking community, who have vowed to boycott Kellogg's cereals, at least until they get hungry.
As a swimmer, Phelps must shave his body hair, so there has to be a deal with some hair removal product, maybe Nair or Neet. If they need a clever tag line for Phelps, then here it is: "Excessive body hair in the pool is like a bong hit: it's a drag."
And who better to advocate hydroponic horticulture than Phelps? There's a glossy ad on the inside cover of the March 2009 issue of High Times magazine just waiting for a picture of Phelps. And this time, the picture will be taken with his consent.
Of course, the entertainment world will soon come calling to take advantage of Phelps' newfound versatility. Could a Broadway show be in the works? Definitely, and Phelps, in the role Yul Brynner made famous, could display his acting chops in The Bong And I. Or, he could host a talent show, as stoned contestants go onstage and perform acts they wouldn't think of doing straight in The Bong Show. And, there's already an excess of dancing shows on television. What would be the harm in one more, appropriately titled Same Old Bong And Dance.? Finally, it would be a travesty if Phelps didn't guest host Cartoon Network's Adult Swim program at least once.
Phelps didn't waste any time before implementing damage control, so he is well on his way to reclaiming his iconic status and renewed prominence in the advertising world. Heck, who says you can't smoke an upright bong and still be an upright citizen? Next to Alex Rodriguez and Chris Brown, Phelps looks like an angel. Phelps should remain apologetic and humble, and most of all, he should avoid all contact with bongs, and drug paraphernalia in general. If he plays his cards right, Phelps will once again be a role model. However, one more marijuana-related mistake, and his career will be ruined, and he'll be nothing more than a "roll" model.