For what it's worth, I never saw him touch alcohol during the tour, nor treat his family, friends and fans with anything but respect and care.
So, the list grows longer of people who point out that the guy doesn't drink. One of them was a guy who had a tailgate party for a Michigan football game that Michael and a couple other swimmers attended. He said that Michael never touched a drop, despite beer being readily available to him. And really, if there's one place where nobody would blink an eye at a underage person tossing back some brewskis, it's a college tailgate party.
So, it's just strange--wonder what happened on that particular night that made him decide to get his buzz on? Maybe peer pressure from other kids at the party? Wouldn't surprise me--this is what happens when ABC Afterschool Specials are replaced by Judge Judy! LOL!
Anyway, the article...
My Sportsman Choice: Michael Phelps
Posted: Friday November 26, 2004 12:27PM; Updated: Friday November 26, 2004 12:27PM
By Brian Cazenueve
Shortly after I submitted the essay below, Michael Phelps was arrested for DUI near his home in suburban Baltimore. He has since been very public and adamant about his remorse over this transgression. My sense from Phelps and those around him is the remorse is sincere. In working on his autobiography, I traveled with Phelps and his team on a swimming tour for nearly a month after the Olympics.
For what it's worth, I never saw him touch alcohol during the tour, nor treat his family, friends and fans with anything but respect and care. While that doesn't excuse what he did on Nov. 4, I'm convinced that his actions that night did not underlie some camouflaged behavioral pattern or indifferent attitude. Just as history will judge Phelps the swimmer, history will judge Phelps the public figure, by the whole of his actions over the length of his tenure in the public eye. It is a hard lesson for a 19-year-old to learn that on some days he will be able choose his moments in the spotlight, and on other days, the spotlight will choose him.
This column needs a disclaimer. Not without an asterisk should it bypass the leadership of Tom Brady, the heroism of Pat Tillman, the sustained excellence of Lance Armstrong or the flying elephants that circled above Fenway Park this fall. But I suggest that Michael Phelps should be SI's Sportsman of the Year.
Since I wrote his autobiography, Beneath the Surface, my Phelps nomination carries with it a certain conflict of interest. That said, when you write a book with someone, you gain an access that enables you to dispel myths, cut through spin and see people when the curtain goes down. It can be disappointing, but that wasn't the case with Phelps.
People like to see a semblance of normality and humility in their sporting stars, especially those from the Olympic world. The Michael Phelps I saw was the sort of person you would expect to give up a relay spot to Ian Crocker because it was the right thing to do. After the Olympics ended in Athens, I traveled across the country with Phelps and his team during their post-Olympic tour of swim shows. The tour was really an outgrowth of his avowed goal to improve the sport. Each time a reporter asked Phelps about his goals leading up to the Games, he would answer: "To change the sport of swimming." If that sounded boastful coming from a teenager, I soon realized his emphasis was on the sport being changed rather than on his ability to change it. "We need to get swimming in the headlines," he'd say. "We need to be on SportsCenter."
Phelps wanted to create the sort of buzz that other sports enjoy. He didn't ask me how he could get more coverage in SI, but he did ask what swimming could do to get more coverage. He didn't ask how we could make more money from selling more books, but rather how we could make the book better and what would make his story resonate with kids. We traveled with fellow swimmers Lenny Krayzelburg and Crocker by bus throughout the tour from Orlando to Atlanta to New York to Baltimore to Chicago to Dallas to Denver to Las Vegas. I left the Disney-sponsored tour before it landed in Anaheim, where the company created a portable pool on Main Street of Disneyland. The shows consisted of a clinic, a race among the three Olympians, a Q&A session, a relay race involving local kids and anchored by Phelps, Crocker and Krayzelburg, and an autograph session. After each session, Phelps always consulted with his teammates about ways to improve the next show. Too many drills? Shorten the clinic. Dull musical background? Find a better CD. More questions? Fewer questions? More time for autographs? Which parts made the kids cheer the loudest? Phelps seemed to have a good eye and ear for what youngsters liked because he was really still a kid himself.
One memorable story from the trip: When we were in Baltimore, his hometown, Phelps was traveling from appearance to appearance one afternoon. He was driving in the left hand lane of an interstate in his souped-up Cadillac Escalade. I was in the passenger seat. In the lane to our right, two girls who recognized Phelps popped their heads out of the sunroof of a car and started screaming his name. They were waving Wheaties boxes with his picture on them, hoping they could somehow get him to sign the boxes even though we were in moving vehicles. Phelps was cracking up and asked, "What should I do here?" "What do you want to do?" I asked him. "I'm going for it," he said. He pulled the vehicle alongside theirs and soon I was reaching through the passenger-seat window to grab the boxes from an older woman, presumably the mother, who was driving the other car. I passed the boxes to Phelps, he signed them, and I passed them back to the other driver. The woman was grateful -- and oblivious to the fact that she was in a moving vehicle --so we kept pointing to the road ahead of her in case she might have needed to hit the brakes or turn the steering wheel. I don't think the people with Phelps' management team ever anticipated the number of phone numbers on folded pieces of paper that teenage girls would pass to them. Sure, Phelps got a kick out of the attention. He was flattered by the rock-star status. But as we watched one day the block-long line of people standing in front of the pool complex holding one of his shows, he was very mindful of the vehicle that gave him his chance to win eight Olympic medals and become a sporting teen idol. "Cool that they're waiting to watch swimming, huh," he said.
So this column really can't be a blanket endorsement of Phelps for Sportsman of the Year. But it is an affirmation of the appreciation for his sport that made him a candidate.