Now how would you like to be Debbie Phelps?
Everybody is talking about your son's latest indiscretions. Pictures of his alleged bad behavior are plastered all over the Internet. Corporate sponsors are wondering who they paid all those millions to. Swim officials are in a panic.
Debbie's son, of course, is Michael Phelps, who has won more Olympic gold medals than anyone in history. In case you missed it, over the weekend, photos surfaced of Phelps supposedly at a party in South Carolina last November smoking what apparently is marijuana from a glass bong.
Phelps was supposed to be in Tampa for the Super Bowl. He canceled his plans. His sports marketing firm - the one that has landed him a reported millions in endorsements - put out a statement in Phelps's name. "I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment. I'm 23 years old, and despite the successes I have had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner that people have come to expect from ome, For this I am sorry, I promise my fans and the public - it will not happen again."
Whether there will be more "youthful" mistakes, I couldn't predict - and either apparently can Michael. In 2004, at age 19, he made pretty much the same statement after he'd been pulled over for running a stop sign and charged with driving while intoxicated. I don't remember his exact words at the time; they were something like: "If you're worried about this happening again, don't."
The Phelps family got through that one, and no doubt will weather this storm too - Michael with his mom at his side. Debbie, a principal at a middle school, is a force of nature. She's a vivacious, outgoing lady. She lives in Baltimore. I live in Baltimore. Her son and daughters trained for years at Meadowbrook Swim Club. I am a member of the club. (Now Michael is a part-owner).
I've interviewed Debbie and asked about her concerns with the parents of young swimmers now coming up in the sport. She had some memorable things to say. Mostly, that adults need to back off and allow their kids to swim for fun, not turn them into stroke machines. "“Parents just need to chill. Realize that it doesn’t help to set expectations, especially unrealistic ones," she told me.
I searched my notebook from that interview this morning looking for another quote that hadn't made it into earlier articles but seemed to apply very nicely to the news about Michael today.
Debbie had told me: "Love [your kids] for who they are, whether they swim the fastest [butter]fly or finish eighth in their heat."
If she's like most parents, this morning Debbie is feeling a mix of emotions, many of which are making her see red. She's probably disappointed, sad, angry, regretful and maybe a little disbelieving all at the same time.
But in the end, I have a feeling she'll take her own advice. She'll love her kid.