It was a rough weekend for role models.
Michael Phelps, riding high during his historic Olympic performance, was apparently a different kind of high in a photograph that appeared in the English tabloid News of the World. Phelps issued a statement acknowledging it was him, misusing his heralded lung capacity by smoking from a marijuana pipe at a party.
Santonio Holmes, the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver who earned Super Bowl MVP honors by catching the winning touchdown pass, was suspended for a game in October after being cited for possession of marijuana. Holmes had three pot-loaded cigars in his car.
Maybe you’d be queasy knowing that Super Bowl heroes Larry Fitzgerald and James Harrison each have had complaints filed against them in the last year involving domestic violence. Little was made of those issues last week, likely because they are so difficult for outsiders to get a handle on.
The complaint against Fitzgerald, filed by an ex-girlfriend who bore him a son, is still pending. The complaint against Harrison was dropped by a judge after the linebacker underwent anger-management training — which apparently failed him as he drew a fourth-quarter penalty for unnecessary roughness for striking Arizona’s Aaron Francisco.
Bad behavior by athletes is nothing new, of course, but the events of the last couple of days created a rare critical mass. These are the best athletes of our time, performing at the highest levels in the biggest events, and we have to decide whether we have to hold our noses to enjoy what we’re seeing.
Phelps apologized for what he called “regrettable” behavior. He may really regret exposing himself to the embarrassment and possible lost endorsement income by foolishly allowing himself to be photographed with the pipe.
Here is perhaps the most recognizable athlete on the planet at the moment — Phelps spent the summer on live television and on magazine covers — in an era when practically everyone is carrying a cell phone capable of taking pictures, and when those images can be thrown on the Internet in moments.
Phelps’ representatives reportedly attempted to bribe News of the World editors to keep the photo from being published. All that accomplished was further embarrassment of the man who won eight gold medals in Beijing.
Really, you wonder how Phelps could be that careless with a public image that is worth millions of dollars to him. Then again, no one has ever seriously suggested that smoking weed makes you smarter.
We celebrate viciousness on the field and recoil from it off the field. Whatever happened between Harrison and his girlfriend, a judge decided to drop the case.
Harrison was named the NFL’s defensive player of the year. Holmes is the MVP of the Super Bowl. Fitzgerald became the biggest star of this postseason with a record-breaking performance.
All Phelps did was establish himself as one of the greatest athletes in history.
What they do in their personal lives is their own sometimes-wrong choice. Whether their achievements are tainted or diminished by those things, that’s our choice.