MILWAUKEE – Michael Phelps doesn’t seem to be in much hot water with his sponsors despite being photographed inhaling from a marijuana pipe.
From apparel company Speedo to luxury Swiss watchmaker Omega, several sponsors are standing by the 23-year-old swimming phenom – at least for now – and have accepted his public apology. Other big companies, like Visa Inc., Subway and Kellogg Co., aren’t talking yet.
Experts say if Phelps doesn’t stick to the straight and narrow, he could hurt his chances at future endorsements. And there’s no guarantee he won’t be dropped quietly once the furor dies down.
Phelps, who won a record eight gold medals at the Olympics in Beijing, acknowledged “regrettable” behavior and “bad judgment” after a photo appeared Sunday in the British tabloid News of the World.
The paper said the picture was taken during a November house party while Phelps was visiting the University of South Carolina.
Phelps handled the situation well by apologizing and saying he regretted his actions, said John Sweeney, director of sports communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism. Phelps went a step further and promised “it will not happen again.”
In 2004, after the Athens Games, a then-underage Phelps was arrested for drunken driving. He pleaded guilty, apologized and said he wouldn’t make the same mistake again.