Will Phelps Lose His Medals?

It’s tough being Michael Phelps. Despite the fame, the fortune and all that precious metal around your neck, you just can’t do the sorts of things that normal dudes in their mid-20’s do in this country every day: visit strip clubs, take bong hits at frat parties and star in weird, not-quite sexy ads for Louis Vuitton, famed French maker of very ugly, very expensive tote bags.

The alleged offense in this latest, mildest Phelps controversy concerns the act of making money before mommy Olympia says its OK. Olympics participants are legally forbidden from appearing in ads or other promotional events with any non-Olympic entities during a one-month period from July 18 to August 15. The punishment for related violations is somewhat severe: offending athletes may be required to relinquish their medals altogether. The games would almost definitely turn into an advertising orgy if this restriction weren’t in place, but how does it apply to Phelps?

The ads in question weren’t scheduled to be released before the end date, but some wise guy leaked them to the media beforehand–and many news organizations, ours included, used the opportunity to drive traffic their way. You scratch my back, right? Michael Phelps could be found liable under these longstanding rules–assuming he knew that the images would make their way into the media’s grubby little hands before the 16th of August. And that’s where the “case” falls apart.

Can a court prove that Phelps knew the ads would be leaked before the end of the forbidden period? Almost certainly not. He only would have known about the leak if he were party to some kind of conspiracy to get the pics out before their official street date–which would go against the interests of his wealthy sponsor, by the way. So is this a total non-story? Pretty much. The biggest question to arise from the matter at hand is “Who made the leak…and why?”