The Bald Truth
When Tiger Woods uses profanity in front of thousands of fans, it's not necessarily a bad thing. The same is true of Sammy Sosa corking his bat, Mark McGwire declining to talk about the past and Michael Jordan slugging a teammate.
As for Michael Phelps getting photographed firing up a bong, it could be considered a very good thing ... for us, if not for him.
These cases confirm that our sports heroes aren't gods - and that's rarely bad.
But, some ask, what do we tell our kids?
Well, how about this crazy idea:
For example, rather than moan about Phelps sending the message that smoking dope is cool, we can use this as an opportunity to talk to our kids frankly about drug use.
If we're lucky, they might even listen.
Five teaching points provided by the foibles of Phelps (and others):
1. Phelps isn't a god. He's a human being and he's subject to the same human frailties as the rest of us.
Yes, he's very good at what he does - just like millions of others are very good at what they do. He simply happens to do his thing on a public stage. And when he screws up, that takes place on a public stage, too.
2. Actions have consequences.
In Phelps' case, he has lost millions of dollars in endorsements and he suddenly has to repair a once squeaky-clean reputation.
Sounds even worse than getting grounded for a week.
3. Very little in life is black and white. Shades of gray are everywhere.
I often am asked, "Is (insert famous athlete's name here) a good guy?" And I usually answer: "I really don't know." The brief experiences we have with jocks during interviews or autograph sessions tell us little about what kind of people they are. Like the rest of us, they are complex individuals; they do many fine things but they also mess up sometimes.
Few people are all bad, and fewer still are all good.
4. If you think you won't get caught, you're probably wrong.
Cellphone cameras are everywhere. Employers can (and do) monitor workers' e-mail. College recruiters check out YouTube. Everybody's out to make a buck, and they don't care who gets hurt in the process.
Oh, and Moms and Dads have pretty good built-in lie detectors.
5. Smoking dope (or cheating or cursing or fighting or fill-in-the-blank) is wrong.
We won't hurt our kids' sensitive souls by being up-front with them about this kind of stuff. And we might save them some embarrassment (or even their lives) down the line.
The Balder Truth
Anytime we can demystify these supposed dieties - and I'm talking about actors and musicians, as well as jocks - it's a good thing.
In an ideal world, all famous people would be ideal role models. But the world isn't ideal, and the people our kids really need as role models are us.
THE BALDEST TRUTH
Regular readers know I rarely sermonize like this. But when USA Today gives valuable space on its editorial page to an "expert" who links Phelps' toking to the actions of insidious creeps such as Mike Tyson and O.J. Simpson, it gets me all fired up.
Clearly, I need something to help me chill out.
Hey, does anybody out there have Michael Phelps' phone number?