As most of you have read, heard and likely seen evidence of, 14-time Olympic Gold Medal-winning swimmer, Michael Phelps, has gotten himself into some hot water. He was allegedly photographed “smoking marijuana” with a bong while attending a party at the University of South Carolina. The enterprising photographer then sold the image to “News of the World,” a publication in the UK.

Since the photo has surfaced Phelps has been dropped from Kellogg’s marketing campaign, a move that will hit his wallet. Next, seven people who were allegedly tokin’ up with the Marylander were rounded up and arrested. An eighth (and enterprising) lad was nabbed for attempting to sell the bong on Ebay for $100,000. Now Phelps is facing a tsunami of pressure to apologize as if he were the worst example of sportsmanship since Mike Tyson threatened to “eat” Lennox Lewis’ children. (Tyson also once said, “he called me a rapist and a recluse, I’m not a recluse,” which is true, since he is – in fact – a convicted rapist. )

The list of sports figures that have “failed” the public in their “duty” to be good role models is as long as it is infamous. Rae Carruth is currently doing time for murdering his pregnant girlfriend. Michael Vick was convicted for running a dog fighting ring. More recently, on October 23rd, 2008, former Ohio State University and current Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes was pulled over by police who proceeded to find three “marijuana-filled cigars.” Holmes admitted in an affidavit that he had smoked marijuana on the previous day. In 2006 Holmes was arrested for domestic violence, but the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported the charges were “dismissed after the judge was assured by Mr. Holmes' lawyers that their client was participating in ongoing counseling offered through the NFL.” You know, because the NFL, a game (I love) that features grown men knocking other men into next week and sometimes proffering concussions, spinal injuries and, rarely, paralysis, is the apex of anger management counseling.

Fast forward to the Super Bowl XLIII, which just occurred on February 1st, Mr. Holmes, who was only suspended one game, was allowed to play and caught the game winning touchdown. A little over three months after Holmes was caught green-handed with marijuana and admitted to use during the football season, he is now the toast of the sport’s world. The sports media and media at large have rarely brought up his marijuana use. He’s a hero now! The rationale seems to be that smoking pot is bad and catching a ball is a morality car wash.

What this tells me is the “crime” Michael Phelps perpetrated is not what it appears to be. Phelps isn’t getting bad news coverage and losing an endorsement deal because of what he did, but rather when he did it. Had Michael Phelps been caught with a bong a year before the last Olympics and then went on to win his eight gold medals, the news media would be praising him like they are Santonio Holmes, but because his incident happened after his feat he’s stuck in the new cycle as a bad “role model.” What I surmise from the news media and pundits is that Michael Phelps’ real crime wasn’t having a rat fink asshole (technical term) take a picture of him with a bong, but the timing of the incident. For a man that makes his living off of having the best time in the pool, it’s ironic that outside the water his ultimate crime was his timing.