A mom's advice to Michael Phelps

You are rich and you are famous. Now be careful

August 06, 2012|Susan Reimer

Michael? Michael, honey? It's mom.

No. Not your mom. Not Debbie Phelps. But I am the mother of a couple of kids just your age, and I thought I'd offer you the advice I'd give them if they were about to step into an unfamiliar world.

You have spent most of every day in a pool since you were 11 years old, and you are retiring from that life at the ripe old age of 27 as the most decorated Olympic athlete and the greatest swimmer of all time. Your future is a blank screen.

You are rich and you are famous, and so you must be careful if you do not want to follow other famous athletes into scandal or financial ruin. You must behave as if everything you do will appear on the cover of People magazine. Because it will.

Before you act, ask yourself, "What would my mother say?" That's always a good place to start. After all, the woman has been devoted to you. So that means no dating strippers, no smoking dope, no packing any weapons, no mysterious stabbings outside clubs. No DUIs. Hire a driver, you can afford it.

Like every professional athlete, your career has been brief, and your earning power will only decrease going forward. Take a lesson from former National Football League players, 78 percent of whom report begin essentially broke within a couple of years of leaving the game.

If you like your lifestyle, put your money away in something safe and boring and let it do the earning for you. That means municipal bonds or index funds, not shopping malls, not restaurants and not record labels. No start-up companies, no car dealerships, no real estate. Don't co-sign loans for anybody.

Don't get greedy and try to double your money on the advice of somebody's brother-in-law or a new friend. Get professional advice. Learn where your money is, and keep track of it yourself. You have time to do that now. The goal is to hang on to what you have.

Your brand is your most precious possession. Don't sully it. Some athletes have done well on "Dancing with the Stars," but your feet might be too big for you to be a twinkle toes.

That means no reality shows. No celebrity bull-riding challenges. Don't try acting. No bizarre commercial endorsements, either. Stick with Under Armour or Nike. Personally, I would like to see you on the cover of GQ. You look fabulous in suits. The other kind.

Don't get married. If you do, don't get divorced. Protect yourself, and your fortune, during sex. Divorce settlements and child support can be, along with stupid investments, the quickest route to financial ruin for the wealthy athlete.

Don't date any of the Kardashian girls. Don't get a face lift.

Find a church or a spiritual adviser. Talk to Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan and ask their advice, particularly about what not to do. Both God and man have much to teach you about the burdens and the obligations of being the best ever. And make peace with your father. It will give you peace.

You are going to want to play, and after all your years of punishing work, you deserve it. Put money for that in your budget. But you can only drive one car at a time, and you only need one watch to tell the hour. Bet on horses; don't buy a stable of them. Play poker with your buddies; don't let the pros pick your pockets. Put your ferocious competitive spirit in mothballs when your money is at stake.

You once told Anderson Cooper that you had been to so many fabulous cities in the world but you had never seen anything of them but a pool and a hotel. Take some time to see the world now. Wear sunglasses, pull your cap down over your eyes, take the trains and don't smile that singular smile of yours, and you might be able to travel in peace.

This transition in your life is major. It might cause distress or even depression. Take some time to sort it out and to paint a vision of the future.

And when you come back to Baltimore, kiss your mother, get a degree and become a teacher. Like her. Your power to inspire and motivate children is a gift more rare and precious than any you displayed in the pool.

Use that gift, Michael. Make your mother proud. Make all of us proud.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. Her email is susan.reimer@baltsun.com

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