Mutiple gold medal winning swimming legend, Michael Phelps has been all over the news lately for smoking pot from a bong, caught on camera from a party last November. Go on the internet and you can see him in action outside of the pool. Early fallout: Kellogg’s has just dropped him as a sponsor and USA Swimming is in the process of deciding how to best reprimand him.
New York Yankees great and the man considered by many to be the best, all around baseball player in the game, Alex Rodrigues just admitted yesterday that the rumors of him taking steroids are true. A-Rod, read “A-HOLE” on the cover of yesterday’s NY Post, came clean to the fact that during the 2003 season, when he was a Texas Ranger, he used banned, performance enhancing drugs. A-Rod, are we to believe that this was the only time?
What are we ever to do? Once again our heroes have taken us to dazzling, exciting heights and then suddenly, without warning, dropped us hard on our heads. Not to mention the pain, this kind of rollercoaster ride is downright disillusioning! So what gives here?
Here’s my take on the subject. We are all a little confused as we stand by and watch this horror show. The confusion comes from an assumption that these great athletes are our heroes and, as such, they are almost god-like. After all, watching what Michael Phelps did in the pool this past summer in Beijing winning 8 gold medals, how can you possibly mistake him for a mere mortal? This is exactly what we do to our great athletes. We elevate them to god-like status. We assume that because they perform like gods in the athletic arena, they will continue their god-like ways in every other aspect of their lives.
We are sadly mistaken. Great athletes are far more like us than we think. Yes, they may be very unlike us in their athletic ability. However, in every other part of their lives they are not gods. They have vulnerabilities, weaknesses, personal difficulties, addictions and warts, just like us! The problem comes when we assume that they are, in their personal lives, exactly like they are in their sport.
A-Rod has admitted to cheating. He has apologized for being stupid, naive and displaying poor judgment. His transgressions seem far more serious to me than Michael Phelp’s. A-Rod is supposedly a mature professional. He is someone who supposedly should know better. His transgression involved breaking established rules which gave him an unfair advantage over the competition.
Michael Phelps, on the other hand is simply guilty of being an overwhelmed 23 year old who behaved in a really stupid, slightly self-destructive (given his hero status), irresponsible manner. He shouldn’t have been doing recreational drugs in public (the argument can be made for “not at all.”) He knew he was in a fishbowl with an adoring public, the media and all of his many sponsors. He may have acted immaturely and irresponsibly, but he didn’t cheat.
Both men, however, continue to teach us an important lesson. Being an amazing athlete does not make you immune from being amazingly normal and human, and therefore vulnerable to the human condition. Our athletic heroes will continue to disappoint us because we will continue to wish that they be superhuman in all that they do and they will continue to be human.