Is Michael Phelps a hero or a zero? Depends on who you ask…

July 31, 2012 | Nestor Aparicio

from back in 2004? Maybe it was the frat party pictures that made worldwide news in 2009?

Or, in a small town like Baltimore, maybe it was an oft-time grumpy Phelps rubbing elbows with the locals in Fells Point and away from the sanctuary that is a pool. One thing is for sure, Michael Phelps for all of his red, white and blue glory has certainly ruffled many feathers of local fans who feted him with various parades and accolades four years ago when he returned from Beijing a true American hero.

I can say that I don’t have much of a doggie paddle in this hunt.

I’ve never interviewed Michael Phelps. When he was a kid he used to hang up on my producer and say rude things – and that was when he 16. Soon after, he became a star and his handlers and smarmy agents were impossible to reach and aloof at best when you tried to explain that you were from his hometown and wanted to share his story and accomplishments with the local audience.

And from my perspective it was pretty simple — it’s swimming! If the kid doesn’t want to be nice and friendly (like Anita Nall, Beth Botsford, Theresa Andrews, Katie Hoff and others before him) then fine. We just won’t have him on my show, I suppose. No big deal to me but I could never understand his distance or the nauseating grandstanding of his mother and sisters, who seem to take great joy in the media spotlight and are far more gregarious than he is around Baltimore.

I’ve met him once – at a charity event for Jim McKay. Clearly, from his intense local sports fandom of the Ravens and Orioles, he knew who I was and shook my hand. I literally spent 15 seconds with him. He took a picture with my fawning wife and was chilly at best, which is is his reputation.

But, needless to say, his reputation around Baltimore – his hometown — is not as good as his ego and accomplishments would portend. And I’m not sure how that’s going to play out for him here now that his Olympic career has come to a not-so-glorious end in London.

I love to watch him swim. I think it’s cool he’s from Baltimore and sponsors like Visa want to throw gobs of money at him. He’s tall, handsome and makes the Justin Bieber set swoon.

He’s a multimillionaire and should never have to work another day in his life once he returns from these Games. He wears a Ravens hat. He canoodles with Ravens players. He stands on the sidelines at Ravens games and waves down below from his sky box. Hell, I even saw him with an Orioles hat on a few weeks ago at the final trials when Dara Torres was swimming to try to go to London.

His allegiance to all things orange and purple should be enough to make him “one of us” but I’m not sure anyone from Baltimore feels particularly aligned with Phelps.

And I’m not sure what all that does for Baltimore. And I’m really not clear on what he’s going to do with the rest of his life now that this Olympic swimming career appears to be ending with a not-so-happy finish in England.

If he weren’t a swimmer, who would want to talk to Michael Phelps?

I’ve given you my best (and only) Michael Phelps story.

I didn’t pile on when he was sucking on a bong a few years ago in South Carolina. That would’ve been too easy and quite frankly, that sort of gossip bores me.

This is the fourth time Michael Phelps has gone to some other part of the world representing not only the United States but this incredible athlete is homegrown right here in Towson and Baltimore and I’m not sure anyone really feels all that warm and fuzzy about him.

Or that anyone knows much more about him than the DUI, the bong pictures and his well-worn reputation as ladies’ man and party boy around the bars of Baltimore. I know I don’t know much more than that.

Hometown hero? Meh…

But I still want him to win…

Let’s be honest, Michael Phelps has done one thing in his life that matters – he swims. It’s not a team activity. It’s not a particularly strategic sport with tons of rules and regulations. And it’s not like anyone in the sports fan universe is latched onto the swimming schedule or international meets in any given year. The “fan base” of swimming in America is less than that of most any other sport I can think of at the moment.

Michael Phelps does one thing well and at one point did it better than anyone else has ever done it.

But what’s next?

So, I’ll allow you to finish this sentence today:

Michael Phelps is ________________.

Make sure you sign your name to your answer…

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