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…

I am blogging on behalf of the Visa Go World Olympic Campaign and receive compensation for my time, but
the thoughts, words, and promotions on this page are mine, not Visa’s.

12 Comments For This Post

  1. Patrick Says:

    not handsome….you werent serious, right?

  2. Oriole85 Says:

    I think you could’ve chosen a more neutral picture for him. My Phelps story isn’t much of one, I saw him throw one of the worst first pitches ever, this was 2004 (pre-Olympics) before he became a national star. It’s cool he’s from here and he definitely has his issues, i’ll take the former though.

  3. Jason Manelli Says:

    Michael Phelps is a typical Towson kid. Throw a rock on Friday night by the Commons and you’ll hit a kid with the same affected attitude. He is an amazing champion though and deserves everything he has.

  4. John in Westminster Says:

    Michael Phelps is a(n)…. exceptional swimmer and typical 20-something trying to find his way in life. I’m not sure if he’s chilly or just shy from the attention. As for a ‘hometown hero’, its very kool that one of the greatest Olympic athletes to walk the Earth calls Baltimore home. However, he is a swimmer, which to the average American, is a few rungs below hockey and soccer as a sport. So unless you are winning several gold medals and setting multiple world records, you probably won’t be known much outside your own town.

    I do find it interesting that so many want to dump on him now because he’s not winning multiple gold medals this go around. For all the ‘haters’, please take the next 4 years of your life (let alone the prime of your life) and sacrifice the fun for several hours a day in the pool and training, watching what you eat and focusing intently on being the best ever swimmer you can possibly be. Forget about being the best on the planet. Just let me know how close you get to even making it to the Olympic qualifying swim meet.

  5. chuck Says:

    …the personification of all things Douche.

  6. tsnamm Says:

    is…a great swimmer…never met him or was anywhere he was appearing, so I have no idea if he’s a douche bag or not. Frankly he should get his accolades for his ability and his sacrifice to hone it to world class; like he has done. If he turns out to be a great guy thats just gravy…often times meeting a celebrity or “hero” is a huge disappointment,if they treat you like dirt or act as is oftern the case. Its often better to admire from afar rather than find out you’ve been worshipping a creep.


    the most accomplished athlete ever to come out of southhampton middle school. us harford county people enjoy telling anyone who will listen that at one time we had the best swimmer on the planet and the best skater in kimmie meissner.very hard to top that.HOW ARE THINGS GLENN?

  8. matt Says:

    my best and only phelps story was when we took a mini cooper and a chain and ripped down the ‘michael phelps way’ street sign next to towson high. then we got his cell phone number and tried to negotiate a trade. he immediately hung up.

  9. Steve from Sandpoint Says:

    Michael Phelps is just OK. He’s not a Brooks,Frank,Johnny U or even a Cal. If I saw him at a bar would I buy him a beer probably not, he’s a swimmer and that’s OK.

  10. BmoreBobRob Says:

    I am so glad you wrote this piece because I couldn’t remember if he was on your feud list or not. Knowing your reputation, I was leaning toward a yes. After reading the article and seeing the unflattering picture of him, I can safely yes. Add him to the list of Jim Rome, Gordon Keith, Laura Vecsey among many, many others.

    Thanks again.

  11. Frank Says:

    Low blow Nestor, sounds like you have some ‘sour grapes”.

  12. Andrew A. Sailer Says:

    I like what you had to say because it has helped me imensely.

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