SBD/Issue 96/Sponsorships, Advertising & Marketing

Phelps Says Public Scrutiny Could Cause Him To Skip 2012 Games

Phelps Speaks Publicly For
First Time Since Sunday
U.S. Gold Medal-winning swimmer Michael Phelps yesterday indicated that the "intense public scrutiny" surrounding a photo of him allegedly smoking marijuana has him "contemplating whether he will swim" in the '12 London Games, according to a front-page piece by Kevin Van Valkenburg of the Baltimore SUN. Phelps, speaking publicly for the first time since the photo was published in a British tabloid Sunday, said, "This is a decision of mine that I'm not going to make today and I'm not going to make tomorrow. It's going to require a lot of time and energy and a lot of thinking for myself -- but also talking to [coach Bob Bowman] and talking to my family and just deciding what I want to do." Phelps added, "There are still goals that I have in the pool, 100[%]. But I'm not going to let anything stand in my way. If I decide to walk away, I'll decide to walk away on my own terms. If it's now, if it's four years, who knows. But it is something I need to think about and decide what I want to do." Phelps admitted he "clearly made a mistake," and said he and his family have "been talking a lot" since the photo was published. Phelps: "This was stupid, and I know this won't happen again. ... I think this is like the DUI [in '04], in that it's something I can talk more about and make sure that nobody makes the same mistakes I made. What I've gone through in the last week, no one wants to go through" (Baltimore SUN, 2/5).

USOC WANTS MEETING WITH PHELPS: USOC CEO Jim Scherr yesterday said that he would "like to have a face-to-face meeting" with Phelps, while USOC Chief Communications Officer Darryl Seibel said that the federation was "sending Phelps a letter offering its assistance." Scherr said, "Based on this occurrence, we at the USOC, as we said in an earlier statement, are exceptionally disappointed in him, as he is in himself. We'll follow up and have a direct conversation with him and people close to him." Scherr added, "I think, obviously, his sponsors and people close to him will be and are concerned about whether this may be a recurrence or whether this is a pattern of behavior" (AP, 2/4). Meanwhile, FINA yesterday accepted Phelps' apology, and ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said, “I hate when people in positions of authority are afraid of young athletes ... and they just sort of cower and they just kiss up to them in such a way and offer them praise as if it's going to somehow reflect on them, and they come off looking like morons” ("PTI," ESPN, 2/4).

Subway Refusing To Comment, Issue
Statement Regarding Phelps Incident
FLIP TURN? USA TODAY's Christine Brennan writes the "succession of unabashed sponsor love for Phelps officially ended Wednesday" when Subway and Kellogg's, two partners who have yet to offer public support of Phelps, "did not support him when asked for a comment." Subway spokesperson Megan Driscoll in an e-mail said, "Subway is not commenting or releasing a statement right now on Michael Phelps." Kellogg's would not comment on the issue. Brennan notes the two companies are "not saying no and they're not saying yes, which probably means" they are "not happy, and ... thinking about their options." Brennan: "Thank goodness a smidgen of sanity remains in the corporate world." But as we "near the end of Phelps' miserable week, one question lingers above all others: While many were looking out for Phelps' financial well-being, who was looking out for him?" (USA TODAY, 2/5). BLOOMBERG NEWS' Scott Soshnick wondered if Phelps' representatives at Octagon are "looking out for Phelps, the person, or Phelps, the cash register" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 2/4).

BOTH SIDES OF THE TABLE: In Toronto, Rosie DiManno writes under the header, "Phelps' Bong Toke Blown Out Of Proportion." The public's response thus far to Phelps' "itsy-bitsy transgression has been one big shrug -- except for some sports columnists wagging their fingers: The same moral stalwarts who routinely get pissed to the gills, sometimes right after filing their dispatches on Phelps from pool-side." It is "silly to place him among that firmament of felons" (TORONTO STAR, 2/5). ESPN’s Mike Greenberg said of Phelps possibly skipping the London Games, “I really hope this episode does not keep him from doing it again. That would be really a shame. I think what he did can be described as irresponsible and silly. … People have done far worse things” (“Mike & Mike in the Morning,” ESPN2, 2/5). In Boston, Charles Pierce writes to Phelps, "Your apology is unnecessary. You don't owe me one. ... I truly do not care that you undermined all the hard work that your sponsors and [NBC] put into creating an artificial You" (BOSTON GLOBE "OT," 2/5 issue). But CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Freeman wrote Phelps is "receiving the kind of pass you rarely see athletes get." His sponsors are "sticking by him and it seems many sports fans are defending Phelps as are members of the media." But Phelps "possesses a sense of arrogance and self-entitlement many of us didn't spot until now, a combination of Ko-Me Bryant and Manny Ramirez" (CBSSPORTS.com, 2/4). In Cleveland, Bud Shaw writes under the header, "Phelps' Backers Deserve A Gold Medal For Loyalty (Or Blind Faith)." Phelps should not be arrested, but the "reaction is such you'd think hitting a bong is just another water workout for an Olympian swimming in $100[M] worth of endorsements." Shaw: "I don't know what the tipping point is for sponsor loyalty to athletes who do dumb things" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 2/5).

Will Image Of Smoking From Bong Be
Synonymous With Michael Phelps Forever?
COULD HAVE LINGERING IMPACT: The AP's Tim Dahlberg wrote, "Images are everything, and the image of Phelps with a bong pressed up against his face will live in people's minds long after they've forgotten the image of him with eight gold medals around his neck." Phelps will be the "Olympian who likes to party, not the swimmer who won the most medals ever" (AP, 2/4). In Detroit, Jamie Samuelsen wrote, "I doubt this stains Phelps long-term." However, there are "two things though that could hurt him." The London Games is the next time the world will be focused on his swimming, and "sometimes these things get bigger as public pressure grows." Samuelsen: "All we're asking for from Phelps [is] a little common sense and responsibility" (FREEP.com, 2/4).

TIME TO SHOW HUMILITY: In New Orleans, John DeShazier wrote Phelps "exhibited a level of misjudgment -- or stupidity, or hubris -- that suggests he deserves a penalty that's a little more severe than making a couple of public service announcements and speaking to a few hundred grade school kids." As a celebrity, "you know every move is being watched," and you "should do what you do publicly with much forethought." But if Phelps "didn't learn that after the Athens Games, after all of the unwanted spotlight he earned because he drank and drove while he couldn't legally drink and obviously shouldn't have been driving, then you wonder how long it's going to take for the lesson to sink in" (NOLA.com, 2/4). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said, "He's a great swimmer and he’s very practiced at the art of apologizing and promising it will never happen again. So now he's gone through a DUI, now he’s gone through a bong hit, and if he cheats on his taxes he will apologize again and tell you sincerely that this is never going to happen again. The truth of the matter is you have to question his character and certainly his judgment” (“PTI,” ESPN, 2/4). In Jacksonville, Gene Frenette writes Phelps is "just another big shot hoping a short mea culpa would make it all blow over" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 2/5).

INCIDENT COULD INCREASE POPULARITY: In K.C., Sam Mellinger wrote the incident actually may make Phelps "more popular." Phelps "hasn't been caught doing anything that too many of us haven't also done." He is a 23-year-old with "flaws who makes stupid decisions like other 23-year-olds." Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban's popularity "only grows when we see pictures of him out," and Steelers K Jeff Reed similarly "becomes something of a cult hero" when compromising pictures of him are released. Actress Vanessa Hudgens' popularity "spiked after nude photos of her made the rounds," and reality TV star Kim Kardashian's "celebrity launched shortly after her sex tape leaked." Mellinger: "Instead of being turned off, there's a huge segment of sports fans who like seeing their athletes as human" (KCSTAR.com, 2/4).

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