Is Michael Phelps a hero or a zero? Depends on who you ask…


The every-fourth-year hubbub about the Olympics and swimming and local connections is underway and once again this week Michael Phelps has entered the worldwide sports consciousness every night as the most decorated athlete in United States history.

So if you’re a provincial, “local” Baltimore sports fan you’re almost obligated to cheer for the kid from Towson wearing the red, white and blue on behalf of our country as well as our community.

After all of the tape delay fiascos from England this weekend – I wrote my two cents here — I started thinking about Michael Phelps as being the unique sports figure of our time in Baltimore. Oh, sure we have some hometown sports heroes like Johnny Unitas, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken and Ray Lewis, who will all have plenty of bronze likenesses and memories in our community and “time will not dim the glory of their deeds” but Phelps’ accomplishments trump all of them on his stage when you consider his competition around the planet and the scope and magnitude of the Olympics.

And unlike the Orioles, Colts or Ravens, most people have never been anywhere near a pool where Michael Phelps has swam a lap. The closest approximation to a “cheering crowd” for Phelps happened four years ago when the remnants of a Baltimore Ravens preseason game watched him swim for gold inside the stadium about 30 minutes after the football game ended.

You can see my view of it here:

So on Saturday afternoon before Phelps took his first turn in the pool vs. Ryan Lochte, I put up one simple, open-ended sentence for tens of thousands of our @WNST Twitter followers and our Facebook community. It was:

Michael Phelps is ___________________.

There were hundreds of comments across social media and by my count far more than 50% weren’t just negative they were downright personal and abusive in some cases. And this was on Facebook, where people sign their names and add their likeness to their criticism.

Perhaps it’s gold medal envy?

Maybe it was the DUI


  1. I think you could’ve chosen a more neutral picture for him. My Phelps story isn’t much of one, I saw him throw one of the worst first pitches ever, this was 2004 (pre-Olympics) before he became a national star. It’s cool he’s from here and he definitely has his issues, i’ll take the former though.

  2. Michael Phelps is a typical Towson kid. Throw a rock on Friday night by the Commons and you’ll hit a kid with the same affected attitude. He is an amazing champion though and deserves everything he has.

  3. Michael Phelps is a(n)…. exceptional swimmer and typical 20-something trying to find his way in life. I’m not sure if he’s chilly or just shy from the attention. As for a ‘hometown hero’, its very kool that one of the greatest Olympic athletes to walk the Earth calls Baltimore home. However, he is a swimmer, which to the average American, is a few rungs below hockey and soccer as a sport. So unless you are winning several gold medals and setting multiple world records, you probably won’t be known much outside your own town.

    I do find it interesting that so many want to dump on him now because he’s not winning multiple gold medals this go around. For all the ‘haters’, please take the next 4 years of your life (let alone the prime of your life) and sacrifice the fun for several hours a day in the pool and training, watching what you eat and focusing intently on being the best ever swimmer you can possibly be. Forget about being the best on the planet. Just let me know how close you get to even making it to the Olympic qualifying swim meet.

  4. is…a great swimmer…never met him or was anywhere he was appearing, so I have no idea if he’s a douche bag or not. Frankly he should get his accolades for his ability and his sacrifice to hone it to world class; like he has done. If he turns out to be a great guy thats just gravy…often times meeting a celebrity or “hero” is a huge disappointment,if they treat you like dirt or act as is oftern the case. Its often better to admire from afar rather than find out you’ve been worshipping a creep.

  5. the most accomplished athlete ever to come out of southhampton middle school. us harford county people enjoy telling anyone who will listen that at one time we had the best swimmer on the planet and the best skater in kimmie meissner.very hard to top that.HOW ARE THINGS GLENN?

  6. my best and only phelps story was when we took a mini cooper and a chain and ripped down the ‘michael phelps way’ street sign next to towson high. then we got his cell phone number and tried to negotiate a trade. he immediately hung up.

  7. Michael Phelps is just OK. He’s not a Brooks,Frank,Johnny U or even a Cal. If I saw him at a bar would I buy him a beer probably not, he’s a swimmer and that’s OK.

  8. I am so glad you wrote this piece because I couldn’t remember if he was on your feud list or not. Knowing your reputation, I was leaning toward a yes. After reading the article and seeing the unflattering picture of him, I can safely yes. Add him to the list of Jim Rome, Gordon Keith, Laura Vecsey among many, many others.

    Thanks again.

Comments are closed.