An alleged picture of Olympic hero Michael Phelps smoking from a bong has hit the Internet. The snapshot, first printed in the British tabloid News of the World, is said to be from November, when the 14-time gold medalist was attending a party at the University of South Carolina. No substance can be seen in the picture.
The article from News of the World suggests that Phelps' career could be suspended for four years if he tests positive for marijuana, which isn't entirely true. FINA, the world swimming body, has differing rules for in-competition drug testing and out-of-competition testing. Reports vary on what punishments Phelps would face if he tested positive for marijuana last November, but that's a moot point since there is no suggestion that he has failed any such tests.
The big worry for Phelps is his image, though. The 23-year old has made millions from endorsements since his record-setting Olympics. And unless Snoop Dogg has a new line of products coming out, it's doubtful that too many companies will want to associate with Phelps if these pictures put a dent in his reputation.
Our guess is that the sting from this will be temporary, just like when Phelps was convicted of DUI in 2004. The pictures aren't nearly definitive enough (it certainly looks like Phelps though -- take a look at the freakish arms), the eyewitness statements read like the script from an awful after-school special ("he was the gold medal winner of bong hits"), the story was printed (with factual errors) in a trashy British tabloid on Super Bowl Sunday and will be buried tomorrow by news of the game and the commercials and, most importantly, America doesn't seem too concerned with allegations of drug use anymore. If it's not an issue when electing presidents, surely it won't be an issue for a 23-year old national hero who hadn't had much, if any, social life prior to shattering records in Beijing.
UPDATE: Phelps has released a statement confirming the authenticity of the picture (if not quite confirming what exactly he was smoking):
I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment. I'm 23 years old and despite the successes I've had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again."
Photo: News of the World