- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mistakes, we all make them.

Regrets, well, we all have a few.

Alex Rodriguez surely had some about shooting up with steroids, though, curiously enough, he didn’t mention them until he was outed for testing positive. His biggest one now seems to be that he got caught for what he wants you to believe was a youthful indiscretion.

Michael Phelps has some to, and who can blame him. One picture of him smoking a bong figures to long trump the Sports Illustrated cover of him with eight gold medals around his neck.

Like A-Rod, he has an explanation. Does the phrase “immature and stupid” ring a bell?

Don’t be confused if you get a serious case of deja vu Sunday night watching Phelps answering questions posed by Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Dateline” in what the network advertises as an “exclusive” first television interview by Phelps since the infamous picture of him with the bong surfaced in a British tabloid.

Never mind that Phelps has already told print journalists basically the same things he tells Lauer and that he is so uninteresting he is painful to watch. Exclusive in this case means a chance to make even more prime-time money off Phelps than NBC managed to squeeze out of his golden run in Beijing.

Judging from the segment that was used as a teaser on the “Today” show, you could have replaced Phelps with A-Rod, Lauer with Peter Gammons, and marijuana with steroids and the interview would have been eerily the same as the one Rodriguez offered up last month.

By now the formula should be familiar. Jason Giambi pioneered it when he apologized for doing something bad, then refused to say just what bad thing he was apologizing for.

Worked well for him, too. Giambi was able to pocket the $82 million he had remaining on his Yankee contract, no further questions asked.

Rodriguez did much the same thing, admitting that he used something but wasn’t quite sure what it was. He blamed a cousin and the magazine reporter who busted him for his problems, which he said were really caused by him being “young and stupid” and doing an “immature” thing.

Seems to be working for him, too. The Yankees rallied around A-Rod, and he’s still got some $250 million left on his contract. He may even play the remaining nine years he signed up for, though the history with steroid users is that they tend to break down when they stop using the stuff, assuming, of course, that Rodriguez has.

And now we have Phelps, who has contracts of a different kind. His are with advertisers and sponsors, who need to be reassured that they aren’t throwing their money away on someone a lot of people are going to think of as a stoner first and a swimmer second.

That’s the reason Phelps did the taping with Lauer, who could be counted on to help in the damage control process and eventual rehabilitation to superstar by the time of the 2012 Olympics, which his network just happens to be broadcasting. To his credit, Lauer asked the requisite questions, but he didn’t seem to hear any of the answers.

Maybe that’s because he, like all of us, has heard them before.

Phelps, it turns out, made some mistakes, though he declined to say just what they were. He was young and stupid, of course, but now that he’s seen the error of his ways his advice to children who see him or other athletes as role models is to take responsibility for your mistakes.

So, kids, next time you do something bad, go to your parents and tell them you did something bad. Just don’t tell them what it was.

We all know what this was, of course. Not too many people attach their lips to a bong without having some kind of underlying reason for it.

But wouldn’t it be nice for Phelps to just come clean and cut out the charade? Is there any point of wasting our time in prime time on national TV in what is really nothing more than an effort to appease sponsors and NBC?

There isn’t, of course, just like there was no reason to watch A-Rod or Giambi, either. It’s all manufactured damage control, scripted by someone in a PR office somewhere.

And by now the script has grown stale.

___

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org

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