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Update: Michael Phelps plead guilty to DUI on December 19th, 2014 for his offense that occurred on September 30th, 2014. He has been ordered to serve one and one half years of probation or face a prison sentence.
Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, was arrested recently and charged with driving under the influence. The incident, which took place in Phelps’ home state of Maryland, has already incurred serious consequences for the swimmer which could affect the future of his career.
Michael Phelps, who had just reentered professional swimming after a brief hiatus following the London Olympics, has been suspended from the USA Swimming Team for six months. This means that not only will he lose the opportunity to compete in upcoming events, he also loses his funding. This, despite the fact that he has not yet been convicted of any crime.
This type of backlash from a DUI arrest is more common than you may think. The stigma attached with driving under the influence leads to early judgment by the public, especially when the person involved is a well known celebrity. The fact that it has produced possible career altering repercussions for the talented Phelps makes this attitude even more disturbing.
Even for the average citizen of California, a DUI arrest could result in similar consequences. It is permissible in the state for an employer to take action against an employee after a DUI arrest, even though there has yet to be a conviction. This goes against the very foundation of our court system, which states that every defendant is assumed innocent until their guilt can be proven by due process.
The fact that the USA Swimming Team has already taken such drastic action mirrors the way that most of society views a DUI arrest. Even without a conviction, a DUI arrest can lead to severe consequences personally and professionally.
The attention given to Phelps arrest has not only hurt his swimming career. The damage to his reputation could jeopardize the many endorsements he is involved in. Not only has his public image been tarnished, but he could stand to lose millions of dollars from his current contracts and the loss of future contracts.
Just a week following the arrest, and before the Olympic Swim Team suspension, Michael Phelps had made the announcement that he was planning on checking himself into a six week addiction program. These types of in-patient programs are meant to help people with alcohol and other types of addictions learn how to resist the temptation.
This shows the human side of this super athlete, who is essentially admitting to what some would call a flaw in his character. Celebrities and athletes are just as susceptible to temptation and addiction as everyone else, and go through the same types of struggles to overcome them.
Voluntarily entering a program such as this will also help with Phelps’ criminal charges, just as it does when an average citizen is charged with a DUI. Showing a willingness to admit your shortcoming and seek help for it can be very helpful, especially when it comes to sentencing.
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A decade ago, when Michael Phelps was only 19, he pled guilty to another DUI in Maryland. This occurred right after his success at the 2004 Athens Olympics. As a first time offender, Phelps was sentenced to 18 months probation and a fine. The conviction was waived, making it possible for him to be penalized as a first time offender if found guilty in this case. The USA Swim Team took no action against its star after this first arrest.
On September 30th of this year, he was charged not only with driving under the influence but also with excessive speed and crossing double lane lines. He had been pulled over on I-95 after a Maryland Transportation Authority police officer clocked him traveling at 84 mph in a 45 mph zone with a stationary radar.
After field sobriety tests, a blood alcohol test revealed that his blood alcohol content was .14%. In Maryland, the legal limit is .08%. If convicted, Phelps could be sentenced to up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. He can also lose his driving privileges for up to six months. His trial is scheduled to begin on November 19th. There has been no mention made if he will fight the charge or plead guilty.
In the meantime, Phelps is already living with the consequences. The harsh sanctions set forth by the USA Swim Team will cost over $10,000 from the loss of the stipend. There is no way of knowing yet what type of financial loss he will experience from his endorsements with companies like Subway and Omega. With so much negative attention already being given to this arrest, it is likely that he will lose some of his endorsements.
While Michael Phelps is obviously taking responsibility for his arrest, you have to question the quick actions of the USA Swimming Team. By imposing sanctions before a conviction they are in essence ignoring our judicial system. As with any DUI case, whether with a popular public figure or your next door neighbor, it is only fair that you reserve judgment and wait until the courts make their final decision.