An Open Letter to Michael Phelps
February 10, 2009 § 5 Comments
Friends – I sent this out to the Baltimore Sun, but they had received enough mail to not print it – though they agreed. So here it is…
Undoubtedly you have received thousands of letters of support, however I thought that I’d write to you as though to my son. We do, in fact, have a son your age (23), and so in that regard, I know a bit about what I am speaking of. And I am aware of your precious Mother – her support and love are obvious, so please don’t take this as from one who thinks anything other than good things about her. Take it as from one of her friends who stands by her and her son.
First of all, congratulations – while anything more would be gushing – suffice it to say that the entire world, and we are amazed with your accomplishments – and we are grateful for the absolute thrill and joy of the Olympics, largely because of you.
But you are 23 and your entire life you trained for that magical week in which you broke the Olympic Gold World Record. Nearly every day of your young life, while little boys, and then young teenagers were playing sandlot football or Super Mario Brothers, you were working out. When they were still hours away from awakening to each new day, you were in a pool, in the dark, in the cold of Baltimore, swimming laps. When they were home, waiting for dinner, fighting over whose turn it was to choose the music you were back at the pool, swimming against a clock. While other young people were experimenting with hairstyles, you were just trying to figure out how to keep yours from always looking ‘green’ from the chlorine.
And frankly, when they were making the kinds of mistakes and decisions we parents hope they won’t make, but ones we are glad they make when younger, you were conditioning your perfect body and sterile life in preparation for the Olympics.
All this to say, Michael, that what you did isn’t the end of the world – not by a long shot. If I were your Dad I would tell you that it was a mistake – a dumb one. Secretly I would be thrilled that you are okay. I would already have assumed that you would have done something we wouldn’t approve of – that is part of the process of growing up in the normal world. And I would tell you that we love you regardless of the fallout – that corporations and consequences don’t define human beings.
The reason for this letter is not to vet out every wrinkle of what this involves, but to say that while you have made a few dumb decisions, we are no less proud of you and grateful for you. And frankly, we are disappointed that the Kellogg Company has not taken a more courageous position. Their decision to discontinue your contract is their loss, not yours. And forgive us for having ever expected you to be anything other than what we would expect from our own imperfect, but normal and delightful children.
We can’t wait to see what comes of your life (you have many more years in front of you than behind you). What the world may not stop to notice is that there is far more to you than a pound of gold.
Hang in there, kid.