Phelps' recent splashes in media nothing to get worked up about

December 08, 2008|By KEVIN COWHERD | KEVIN COWHERD,kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Michael Phelps landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated last week, decked out in a soaking wet tux as Sportsman of the Year.

But that's nothing compared to the dunking he's taking from the media over his love life.

The blogs are grilling him over his Las Vegas cocktail waitress girlfriend, a curvy neck-snapper named Caroline "Caz" Pal.

A couple of weeks ago, People magazine broke the story that the girlfriend was coming to Baltimore for Thanksgiving dinner with the Phelps family.

And the New York Post, after learning the girlfriend had posed semi-nude for various racy Web sites, quickly reacted with this charming, Tabloid Hell headline: "Olympian's mom meets strip gal."

Even The Baltimore Sun's Page 2 columnist, Laura Vozzella, had some fun with the guess-who's-coming-to-dinner? angle, calling Caz Pal "the tartiest dish at a Baltimore Thanksgiving this year."

Even before the news of the girlfriend broke, many were tsk-tsking Phelps' desire to play in the 2009 World Series of Poker, which he's been prepping for at the Vegas casinos.

So the Olympic swimming star is taking his lumps amid much media clucking that he's lost his way.

To which I would say: Can't we leave this guy alone for five minutes?

Who cares if he's dating a 26-year-old Vegas hottie?

Who cares if he loves poker and wants to see how far he can take his game?

Look, the guy's been doing nothing but swimming 4,000 laps a day in a chlorinated pool for half his life.

He's done nothing but sacrifice for his sport since he was a kid. And he's still basking in the glow of what might be the greatest Olympic performance of all time.

Let him live a little. So he hasn't exactly been a choirboy. Whose business is that besides his?

Here's another thing: Can we all remember that this guy is 23? And still finding his way in life?

If you think 23 is all grown up and that people that age never make mistakes and only make smart, sensible decisions about the people they hang out with and the activities they pursue, you haven't met too many 23-year-olds.

The sad thing about all this snarky gossip is that it shows how much Phelps' life has changed since his eight-gold-medal haul in Beijing last summer.

Privacy is out the window for this guy. Maybe he could hang out unnoticed in nightclubs and casinos before they hung all those medals around his chest, but those days are over now.

Any way you look at it, Phelps is a genuine mega-celebrity, the kind who has to walk around in the standard baseball-cap-and-sunglasses if he wants to have any peace and quiet.

Since his Beijing heroics, every move he's made has been scrutinized. Everywhere he goes, even when he's relaxing, people want to be near him and camera-phones are snapping his picture.

Speaking of which, the blogosphere is making a big deal of camera-phone photos that show Phelps getting a little, um, friendly with a couple of cocktail waitresses in Vegas.

All I can say is, it's a good thing they didn't have camera phones in Babe Ruth's day. Or Mickey Mantle's day. Or Muhammad Ali's day and Joe Namath's day.

Because they weren't choirboys, either, and some of the stuff they did would have made Phelps looks like a church deacon by comparison.

The bottom line here is that Michael Phelps' social life isn't hurting anyone. And while his dating a woman who has bared a little flesh on the Internet might be a tad embarrassing for his family and his sponsors, it doesn't mean he is going over to the dark side.

You want to see a present-day athlete really mess up his life, read up on Plaxico Burress.

This is the New York Giants wide receiver who decided it would be a wise move to go drinking at a popular Manhattan nightclub with a gun in his waistband.

At some point in the evening, probably after a few cocktails, Burress went to adjust the gun, and it went off.

And the bullet tore a hole in his thigh. And as usually happens when a bullet from a Glock semi-automatic tears a hole in your thigh, Burress ended up in the emergency room.

From there, things went even further downhill.

First he was arrested on illegal weapons possession charges, which could bring him up to 15 years in the slammer.

Then the Giants suspended him without pay for the rest of the season.

Michael Phelps hasn't done anything nearly that dumb.

He's dating a cocktail waitress.

He's playing a little poker.

Big deal.

The Olympics are over. Let's leave him alone for a while.

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