The Washington Post

Slate: Is Michael Phelps a really big jerk?

Is Michael Phelps a jerk? Does it even matter? (Michael Regan — Getty Images)

The Olympics start this Friday. Baltimore’s Michael Phelps is undoubtedly our state’s most famous Olympian — probably the country’s too.

And so when this Slate headline crossed my Twitter account, it certainly got my attention: “Is Michael Phelps the Biggest Jerk at the Olympics?”

I should point out that the people who pay my salary also pay the writers at Slate. In the case of Phelps potentially being “the biggest jerk at the Olympics,” the writer asking is a fellow named Justin Peters. During the Olympics, his goal, he writes, is to nail down the identity of the biggest jerk Olympian.

I do not know Justin, but my working assumption with most humans is that they are nice people — until they wrong me. But in the case of athletes being jerks, I’m in the camp of I Generally Do Not Care As Long As They Don’t Break the Law or Be Mean to Children or Their Moms.

So up front let me just say: I have no dog in this fight/pool. If I spent all my time worrying about whether my favorite athletes were jerks, I wouldn’t have time to be lazy on the couch watching ”SportsCenter” and obsessing over fantasy football.

But let me write you through Justin’s analysis.

Under the category of “why he might be a jerk” Justin notes that back in the 2008 games Phelps “refused to hang out with the other members of the American team, even going so far as requiring a private VIP section when the Americans all went to a nightclub.”

No comment.

Under the “why he might not be a jerk” category, Justin writes that Phelps has donated $1 million to charity — his own charity. To Justin this is: “Self-serving!”

No comment.

Justin tallies up a bunch of scores — Phelps gets a zero for never pushing someone in a pool, to Justin’s knowledge — and says our Olympian scored out a 5 out of 10 on the jerk meter. Justin asked his readers to weigh on with their thoughts. One wrote: “This just in: talented people can sometimes be condescending. In other news: air contains oxygen.”

Sounds about right.

Michael Rosenwald is a reporter on the Post's local enterprise team. He writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture.

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