Phelps’ second DUI arrest should draw harsher penalty
Police arrested Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps on a DUI (Driving Under Influence,
the editor) charge early Tuesday, and officials say he was speeding and failed field
sobriety tests when officers pulled him over. New DUI incident belies his words about
learning from mistake. “I understand the severity of my actions and take full
responsibility,” Phelps says. The last time he was arrested for drunk driving, Michael
Phelps was 19, a newly-minted multiple Olympic gold medalist and millionaire
suddenly living in the fast lane.
Immaturity never can be an excuse for Phelps’ getting behind the wheel in an
alcohol-impaired state, given the risks that poses to his own life, those of anyone in his
car or anyone he could have hit (and fortunately did not.)
But immaturity makes such irresponsible behavior explicable, if not defensible.
That – and Phelps’ willingness to admit his error – may have played into a judge’s decision to let him off 10 years ago with 18 months probation.
For Phelps to do it again Tuesday morning at 29 is both inexplicable and
“Earlier this morning, I was arrested and charged with DUI, excessive speeding
and crossing double lane lines,” Phelps said in a statement released by his agent at
Octagon and posted to his Twitter and Facebook pages. “I understand the severity of
my actions and take full responsibility. I know these words may not mean much right
now but I am deeply sorry to everyone I have let down.”
If the facts are as reported, his penalty needs to be a lot more substantial than
the previous one, especially since this case renders meaningless his past statements
about the lesson from his first DUI arrest Nov. 2, 2004 in Wicomico County, Maryland.
Maryland law calls for up to two years in jail, a period of license revocation and
up to a $2,000 fine for a second DUI arrest.
“I’m going to take this experience, I have already learned from this experience,”
Phelps said Dec. 29, 2004, after a district court judge sentenced him to probation and
community service that included giving speeches to local students about the dangers of
“I will pass this along to others who even think about making the same mistake
that I made.”
In the courtroom, Phelps said, “I recognize the seriousness of this mistake. I’ve
learned from this mistake and will continue learning from this mistake for the rest of
Apparently he did not learn enough.
Maryland police told the Baltimore Sun that Phelps was driving a 2014 Land
Rover southbound on Interstate 395 in Baltimore at about 1:40 a.m. Tuesday when he
was clocked by an officer’s radar driving 84 mph in a 45 mph zone.
“Mr. Phelps … was unable to perform satisfactorily a series of standard field
sobriety tests,” police said in a statement.
The Sun reported he was charged with DUI, excessive speed, and crossing double
lane lines. Police told the newspaper Phelps failed a Breathalyzer test but would not
confirm the results.
Michael Phelps is indeed fortunate that he and the other people he has been
encountering on the roadways were not injured or killed as he drove under the
influence. Drivers who get charged with a DUI are likely to have already driven under
the influence of alcohol (or another mood altering…
“It was our hope that Mr. Phelps, after his previous conviction in 2004, would
have learned the significance of his poor, unsafe decision to drink and drive,” Mothers
Against Drunk Driving (MADD) said in an email.
Phelps had returned to competitive swimming this year after having announced
his retirement after the 2012 London Olympics, where he became the most decorated
Olympian in history, with 18 gold and 22 total medals.
His return was widely hailed by everyone in the sport as a way to give swimming
Janet Evans, winner of four Olympic gold medals, told me by telephone Tuesday
that Phelps is the only swimmer whose name her seven-year-old daughter knows.
“For me, as a mom, it is very disappointing that such a role model for the sport
let this happen again,” Evans said.
Requests for comment from several of Phelps’ sponsors were not immediately
answered. Both USA Swimming and the U.S. Olympic Committee expressed
disappointment in him.
“The news regarding Michael Phelps and his actions are disappointing and
unquestionably serious,” USA Swimming said in a statement.
Special Olympics, for which he is a global ambassador, sent a statement of
“Special Olympics acknowledges Michael Phelps’ apology, and we are grateful for
his support of our movement and the impact he has provided to growing our aquatics
program around the world,” said Christy White, the organization’s director of global
media. “Special Olympics will continue to welcome him as a Global Ambassador.”
Phelps actually had cited immaturity when photos of him sucking a bong at a
party were published in 2009. He received a three-month suspension from USA
“I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment,”
he said then in a statement disseminated by Octagon. “I’m 23 years old, and despite the
successes I have had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a
manner that people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my
fans and the public — it will not happen again.”
Phelps’ sponsors have stuck with him despite the past incidents. They may not
find that so easy this time.
This article was republished with permission from Karl-Heinz Huba, the editor and publisher of the Sport Intern.