Tuesday, February 17, 2009

So Michael Phelps Took a Few Hits on a Bong... But What If That Had Been a School Principal?

So, thanks to a Michael Phelps photo that found its way into the wrong hands (in this case, the hands of the British tabloid News of the World), he’s off the U.S. swim team for 90 days and out of at least one of his lucrative endorsement deals. The gold-laden swimmer -- who calls his pot-smoking experience a case of “bad judgment” and “regrettable” -- is taking a big “hit” for a youthful indiscretion. But is it really that big a deal? Some people are saying, So what? He’s human. He made a mistake. Let’s accept his apology and move on.

The Kellogg Company didn’t see it that way. When Phelps’ contract with them comes up for renewal at the end of this month, it will not be renewed. The fact that Kellogg “phired” Phelps is understandable. His face on the Corn Flakes box is among the first faces that millions of kids see each day. And I imagine the language in the swimmer’s Kellogg contract must spell out actions that would result in contract termination. So it seems logical that he would take a multi-million dollar endorsement “hit” for his bong behavior.

But it's not Phelps that I am concerned about. This blog entry is not intended to take "pot shots" at him. I have no doubt that he will rise to the gold medal platform again. I am more concerned about his mother, Debbie Phelps, a middle school principal. I’ve not seen any public comment from her, but I have to wonder how she is responding to those seventh graders in her school who have put her son on a pedestal. I'm hoping -- and thinking -- that she has turned this into a “teachable moment” about bad judgment and making good choices.

Which leads me to ponder… What if a photo surfaced in your town or one nearby that showed a school principal smoking marijuana? School principals may not earn gold medals for their accomplishments -- and they certainly don’t find their mugs on cereal boxes as much as they might deserve that recognition -- but they are role models who are expected to uphold the highest standards of responsible conduct. So how might your community handle that kind of news? That puffing principal’s name would be in the headlines (and off the office door) in a heartbeat, wouldn’t it? And shouldn't it be?

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