Phelps hasn’t learned his lesson quite yet

Last August, Americans watched in awe as international icon Michael Phelps polished off his collection of career gold medals for a total of 14 – more than any other Olympian. To say he rallied America together and got us excited about the Summer Olympics in Beijing is no stretch of the imagination. And our excitement didn’t simply die down after the Olympics. We were proud. Phelps came home as an American who now holds the record for the most gold medals won at a single Olympics. He put swimming on the map.

Nobody would soon forget how in one fell swoop, Phelps made dreams come true. In fact, not even when a photo was released just a few days ago of Phelps holding a bong did we forget that he won those 14 gold medals. Even the disappointment that came with that photograph didn’t erase his accomplishment.

Even before the Summer Olympics, Phelps had emerged as a role model, and not only for people interested in sports, but to those working toward a lofty goal. He was this superhuman that we just loved to love.

And now, we are once again let down by one of our very own role models. Had any other celebrity been caught in that situation, it might not have stunned us one bit.

But the fact that our swimming superstar Michael Phelps was at the center of the photo made our jaws drop. With one blemish on his record already, we assumed Phelps had learned his lesson.

Following his arrest for drunk driving in 2004, Phelps admitted he had let a lot of people down and characterized the arrest as an “isolated incident.” And again last week, he admitted poor decision-making and promised it would never happen again.

We can only hope that’s true and Phelps will apply the discipline and determination he has demonstrated in the pool to his life on land.

The side effect of celebrity – other than million-dollar contracts – is living in the public eye. Young athletes look up to Phelps and parents hold him up as a role model; its another part of the game.

While we can appreciate the pressures of being a young athlete, we cannot excuse this second flaw in judgment from the golden boy.

The honor – and the burden – of representing the U.S. in the Olympics is certainly a challenge to accept. But Phelps accepted that challenge and reaped the benefits.

We should expect his best in return – in or out of the pool.