Phelps may be the world’s fastest swimmer but no man is an island

“No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe” John Donne


Yesterday it was reported that Michael Phelps was caught allegedly speeding through Baltimore’s Fort McHenley Tunnel. He was allegedly clocked doing 85 mph in a 40 zone and driving whilst twice the legal blood alcohol limit. Phelps’s 2014 Range Rover was also allegedly seen driving dangerously crossing double lines.

These are all very serious allegations, which were quickly chased up with an online apology, via Phelps’s Twitter account.

Yesterday’s incident is not the first involving Michael Phelps driving under the influence, nor is it the first scandal he’s been associated with.

In 2004 he was caught drink driving as a 19 year old. Phelps pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was placed on probation as well as given community service.

In 2009 a British tabloid posted a photo of him smoking a bong.

It’s easy to forgive young people for doing stupid things. After all, the stupidity of youth touches just about everyone.

However, at 29 Michael Phelps cannot plead the folly of youth.

What Michael Phelps has done over the last two days, is remind us of the dangers of trying to live a life outside of society.

English Renaissance poet John Donne penned the immortal line, ‘no man is an island’ in 1624.

It resonates today as much as it did 490 years ago.

By allegedly driving under the influence, Phelps has shown a grave error in judgment. This error is not just driving when he shouldn’t have, but he’s made the error of thinking he is an island.

Baltimore is his community. It is this community that he has let down by not following the rules society has developed for the benefit of all.

A driver’s license is a not a right, it is a privilege. It comes with the basic premise that those who hold the privilege of driving will abide by the laws that are designed to protect communities.

The people of Baltimore have not been let down by a swimming role model.

They have been let down by one of their citizens.

Society builds athletes up as role models. We forget they are human and we imbue them with the mythological qualities of Ancient Greek Gods.

In our own desire we seek perfection in others we deify athletes and then voyeuristically enjoy watching them fall.

But Michael Phelps is not a Grecian God. He is a man and a mortal man at that.

His achievements in the pool will not be diminished. He will always have 22 Olympic medals, of which 18 are gold. He is still the greatest Olympian of all time.

He is also very human.

The lesson here lays in the fallacy that even the greatest Olympian of all time can live outside of his society. That he can live by his own rules.

We have been reminded that no man (or woman) is an island. We are all responsible for our actions and we are accountable to the society we live in. This is unavoidable.

It has taken an American swimming superstar to remind us of this.


This article originally appeared on The Roar.


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