I woke up Saturday only to believe myself Rip Van Winkle. It was the only conclusion that made sense.
I turned on my television and found highlights, much to my surprise, of Michael Phelps winning races. Now I know I watched the Beijing Games. I know I already saw Phelps win 8 gold medals. With no official DSM IV diagnosis to counter the premise, I believe myself to be quite sane and those memories genuine.
So what other conclusion could I POSSIBLY come to? There’s swimming on my TV. It’s not 2008. Ergo, it must be 2012 and I have slumbered through a significant part of my fifth decade.
As the day unfolded and I questioned my friends about the three years I slept through—who won the Stanley Cups? Did Bud Selig ever admit to taking steroids? Is Matel, the worlds largest maker of toy cars, still worth more than GM? Why aren’t there more solar panels?-–I discovered that there could be one other possibility. But it’s as ludicrous and impossible as sleeping for 1000 days.
Smoking pot isn’t a bad thing. Smoking pot, it turns out, was good for Phelps and his sport.
Here I am on Sunday morning. Testing my initial conclusion against several chronologies, my memory and more than one “unofficial” session with a professional, I must arrive at the idea that my parents, the good folks at DARE and a couple inmates from Scared Straight were full of hooey.
Phelps hit the chronic. He pulled on that bong like an Olympic athlete testing lung capacity at the Olympic Training Center. And Phelps was suspended from his sport for three months. Kelloggs canceled his endorsement deal.
This weekend Phelps returned to the pool at the Charlotte UltraSwim in North Carolina and ESPN covered the event. (No, I’m serious. Watch it yourself. http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=4172253)
Did anyone see swimming highlights between Phelps’ 6 Gold and 2 Bronze medals in Athens in 2004 and his historic Beijing performance? Nope. (I mean, “Dope.”)
Phelps immature brush with being fallible actually worked in the favor of his sport. It put swimming on the map at a time when it normally has all the cache of Siberian Shuttlecocks.
Let’s face it; no one’s going to care about swimming next week. In fact, no one will care again until the late winter of 2012. But for one day, there it was on my telly—a brief reminder that swimmers actually perform more often than presidential campaign managers. (Who knew?)
The reality is that it wasn’t a swimming story. It was a Michael Phelps story. It just happens that Phelps is a swimmer. Sometimes a superstar like Phelps puts a sport on his back and introduces it to the American public (see Lance Armstrong). Sometimes superstars hurt their sports, like Tiger Woods has hurt golf. (There was a time when I was a golf fan. I watched the Majors every year, regardless of who was competing. Not anymore. I’ll watch ANYTHING Tiger is in contention to win. I’ll watch the Tampax 21 Putt Putt Championships from Kankakee, if Tiger’s wearing red and tees off after 11 a.m. But if Tiger’s not in it, I’m not watching. If Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson were on the 8th sudden death playoff hole at Pebble Beach I’d more likely be pondering tic tac toe strategies with my neighbors nephew.)
But I digress. In a sport ignored as much as swimming, even bad press is good press. So much so, that at this point you’d be hard pressed to convince anyone that Phelps’ blunder wasn’t a bit of a bonanza. Too bad Kellogs wasn’t there to pimp Rice Krispies: “Snap, Crackle and Pot.”