Once it became clear that this story wouldn't go away, it was only a matter of time before the hammer fell. It did tonight. Michael Phelps has been suspended for three months by USA Swimming as part of the fallout from his infamous picture.
Let's not beat around the bush: This is a complete joke. It's a token suspension handed down by an organization that only felt compelled to act so they could quiet a brewing media firestorm. If USA Swimming had actually wanted to suspend Phelps, it would have done so early in the week. And if they had wanted to send a real message, they would have suspended him for a longer period of time.
Instead, the three month suspension is clearly a cop-out, like when a football coach suspends the star running back for the first quarter of a game. Phelps will likely miss just one meet in which he planned to compete; a Grand Prix event in Texas that he would have served as a tuneup for July's World Championships. It's not even a slap on the wrist, it's more like a tap on the knuckle.
The lame suspension was handed down only after it became evident that the mainstream press wouldn't let go of the story. They kept the story in the spotlight for four days too long, likely because there was mass interest in the slightly-tawdry tale of an Olympic hero gone "bad". But there was no national outrage, only slight consternation. People were more upset that Phelps was stupid enough to get photographed doing the deed, not of the actual deed itself. The story stayed popular because it was interesting, not because people wanted Phelps to be dealt with harshly.
By suspending Phelps, USA Swimming seems to have misread the temperature of the room. People seemed pleased that they took action in asking to speak with Phelps. It was a minor infraction that should have had minor consquences. Had the organization simply talked with Phelps, given him a warning and let the story run its course, all would have been fine. Now they have extended the saga and possibly alienated the most important man in the history of the sport.
Before tonight, this incident would have been a footnote in the career of Michael Phelps. This suspension helps make it a chapter; one whose ending hasn't been written yet.