Monday, February 02, 2009

Will Sponsors Throw A Life Line To Michael Phelps?

by Stephanie Fierman

Well. Well, well, well. What can one say about the picture of Michael Phelps smoking marijuana from a bong?
Yes that’s right kids, your gold-medal idol is smoking grass. Weed. Ganja. He’s inhaled. And it looks like he’s done it before, too.

Having moms ourselves, The Garage shudders to think what Phelps’ mother may have said in reaction to the news. And if your Phelps’ reps at Octagon, you've started bailing water. Fast.

Phelps has issued a statement and apology using the “I’m young and dumb” approach and, as Fox Sports is already reporting, this event is likely to fade in the memory of the public. The question is whether sponsors will be willing to help mend his reputation as quickly.

Kid-focused McDonald’s and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, for example, have both counted on Phelps to project a wholesome, healthy All-American image. Maybe Phelps could just alter his pitch for McDonald’s a little bit: “Duuuude! After I smoke, I get, like, the wicked munchies. A Big Mac totally hits the spot.” Yikes.

Chances are good that Phelps’ fortunes will survive long-term if this side of him never sees daylight again. But if there's more to come – if this episode turns out to be only Strike 2 following his arrest for drunk driving in 2004 – his sponsorship potential may not recover for decades, if ever.

A version of this post was originally posted at


  1. Wouldn't it be great if -- just once -- a so-called "fallen hero" would just refuse to take a needless fall?

    Radley Balko ( ) suggests what Phelps' imagined "Dear America" letter might say:

    "I work my ass off 10 months a year. It’s that hard work that gave you all those gooey feelings of patriotism last summer. If during my brief window of down time I want to relax, enjoy myself, and partake of a substance that’s a hell of a lot less bad for me than alcohol, tobacco, or, frankly, most of the prescription drugs most of you are taking, well, you can spare me the lecture."

    Of course, there's sponsorship money to consider -- lots and lots of it. Apparently, Phelps is prepared to acknowledge the conventional wisdom that a fallen hero is preferable to an honest one.

  2. Britto -

    Thank you for your comment; it represents the thoughts of many. As a matter of clarification, the Garage seeks only to assess behavior and actions as they relate to an institution's reputation. In this case, the "institution" is NOT Mr. Phelps as a person, but rather his practical ability to attract lucrative sponsorships.

    The Garage would submit that the bailout debacle, in particular, has brought out the fact that how society may assess behavior - whether it be personal indulgement or taking bank executives to Vegas - is not always rational or fair. An institution can therefore either correct its behavior or continue on... and take its lumps.