02/11/09 — Opinion -- Top athletes are human...after all

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Opinion -- Top athletes are human...after all

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on February 11, 2009 1:50 PM

Thank you Michael Phelps and Alex Rodriguez for reminding us all that minus the million dollar contracts, gold medals and endorsement deals we are just like you.

We as Americans love our heroes when they're hitting tape-measure home runs, rekindling our patriotism by winning eight gold medals and most importantly playing by the rules.

That is until our beloved heroes fall from grace and step outside those rules.

Last week USA Swimming suspended Phelps from competition for three months after pictures surfaced in a British tabloid of Phelps smoking a marijuana bong at a party in November at the University of South Carolina.

The organization's board of directors noted that its intent was to send Phelps a "strong message" that it did not approve of his behavior. USA Swimming has withdrawn Phelps' monthly financial support during his suspension and Kellogg's opted not to renew its contract with the decorated swimmer.

What makes Phelps' recent stumble more disappointing is the bong incident isn't his first fall from grace. In 2004, Phelps -- who was 19 at the time and just a few months removed from winning six gold medals in the Athens Olympics -- was pulled over after rolling through a stop sign and charged with driving while intoxicated.

Over the weekend, Sports Illustrated reported that Rodriguez tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs from 2001 to 2003 while a member of the Texas Rangers.

On Monday, Rodriguez confirmed the allegations and cited his youth, stupidity and the pressure to perform as reasons for his decision to use PEDs. In 2003, Major League Baseball had no penalty for a positive PED test result and repercussions for testing positive weren't put in place until 2004.

During a 2007 interview with CBS' Katie Couric, Rodriguez vehemently denied using steroids. Rodriguez admitted Monday he wasn't being truthful with himself or Couric during the interview.

A three-time American League MVP, Rodriguez signed a $252-million dollar contract when arriving in Texas in 2001 and was traded to the New York Yankees before the 2004 season. The Yankees re-signed Rodriguez in December of 2007 to a 10-year deal worth $275 million. At the time the contract was the highest in baseball.

The former Seattle Mariners' slugger's trouble began off the field well before Monday's admission to using PEDs. Rodriguez's wife and the mother of his two children, Cynthia, filed for divorce in early July of 2008. Speculation linking Rodriguez to Madonna had been swirling for weeks prior to the divorce being filed.

In 2007, Rodriguez was photographed with a former Las Vegas stripper sparking a flurry of criticism from the New York media.

Our problem as fans is once we buy into the hype personified by our heroes as possessing abilities mere mortals can't comprehend while spending their free time building homes for the needy and saving lost puppies, we lose sight of reality.

Michael Phelps, Alex Rodriguez and every other superstar our sons and daughters strive to be like or plaster all over their walls are the same flawed, feeble and complex humans you and I are. The difference is we expect our heroes to be perfect while giving average Joes like ourselves a free pass.

The true definition of success was muddled long, long ago and has since been exchanged for fortune, championships, Hall of Fame inductions and gold medals regardless of what expense these accomplishments are gained.

The harsh reality is fortunes evaporate, trophies get dusty and Hall of Fame inductions become distant memories. True role models are real heroes who do what is right when the spotlight is at its brightest and when no one is looking.

Whether you're the highest-paid player in baseball, a world-class swimmer, a school teacher or a housewife, long-lasting success is measured not by what you have, but by who you are.