Remember Michael Phelps? He’s the internationally renowned, Olympic medal-winning athlete, recognized for his abilities as a top-notch swimmer. He’s also the guy that got caught in 2009 by a British tabloid in flagrante delicto with a water pipe. Photos of Phelps partying frat boy-style and filling his lungs were a major bump in the road for this Olympian’s career (and an opportunity for growers to name their latest strains after the 6-foot-4 athlete). The swimmer faced scrutiny from the mass media, political pundits, conservative and anti-drug groups—even some of his major corporate sponsors.
The International Olympic Committee banned Phelps for three months, while cereal giant Kellogg’s dropped their $500,000 endorsement deal with him. The swimmer even made waves with sponsor and sandwich giant Subway.
Not surprisingly, Phelps publicly apologized, saying, “I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment . . . For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again.”
All this over a couple of tokes?
But in a refreshing take on the whole episode, there are those that sought to bring some perspective to the hand-wringing and moralizing. “Just because he is holding a [water pipe] doesn’t mean he is a marijuana addict,” reality TV host/addiction specialist Drew Pinsky once told celebrity gossip site RadarOnline.
Former Los Angeles Times writer/columnist Dan Neil put his own spin on things, saying, “It seems Phelps has moved the weed needle.”
And, Subway has recently embraced Phelps (or his marketing draw) once again. The athlete has appeared in a television ad campaign for Subway entitled “Be Yourself.” Madison Avenue, it appears, loves a good joke.
Oh, and the name of Subway’s latest website: FreshBuzz. (Alex Distefano)