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Surprising Science

Reflections on Athletes and Their Scandals

Lance Armstrong and doping. Marion Jones and steroids. Tanya Harding and a lead pipe. Scandal seems to inevitably follow on the heels of—or, in some cases, preclude—gold medals. So it comes as no surprise that Michael Phelps, currently our quintessential gold medal-er and newest celebrity athelete, should be the next to have some murky information surface about his personal life.

Partially, its the intense scrutiny that develops around Olympians—you would have snapped a picture of Phelps’ bong hit, too—but isn’t there also some perverse desire on the part of the public to see our athletes fall from grace? After all, we do quite literally put them on pedestals.

So if we assume that Michael Phelps had to step into scandal sooner or later, shouldn’t he be congratulated for navigating it so deftly? The blogosphere has already generated a slew of alarmist stories: alleged cover-ups, prosecution, medal-stripping, banishment from 2012. But the reality is that—beyond his three-month suspension and the loss of his Kellogg’s contract—Phelps will be spared serious punishment. The tone of his post-scandal interviews says as much; Phelps knows he’s the golden boy, and as long as he sticks to depressants and steers clear of performance-enhancers, he’ll stay that way.

The only contingent to really suffer in this whole affair? Video-game playing, White Castle-eating stoners everywhere. Oh, and someone should tell Kellogg that cereal is a serious munchie.


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