Stop trying to Photoshop our sporting heroes (or, Michael Phelps got it wrong ... but not as wrong as Kellogg's)

There are priorities. There are actions. There are consequences.

It’s one of the fundamental life lessons parents teach their children: figure out what is important in your life, understand the repercussions of your actions and cop it sweet. Punishment and derision are by-products of offensive, illegal or bad behaviour and likewise, good behaviour begets rewards and/or praise.

It sounds so simple, yet despite hearing this concept from an early age, it’s been the struggle of people throughout their ages and throughout the ages.

I am constantly reminded of how simple this should be when sportspeople – especially footballers – appear in the news for all the wrong reasons: excessive drinking, violence, sexual abuse. These headlines are usually coupled with demand and debate over alcohol bans for the associated code.

I think in these cases, time and energy are wasted on debate. Even children can comprehend that consequences follow actions. No one should be excused of recriminations just because they are part of a tough guy, male-dominated culture.

When footballers stray beyond the boundaries of human decency to violate the basic human rights of another person and bring the sport into disrepute, it should result in an automatic ban on professional competition for a set period in addition to associated criminal charges. Hit ‘em where it hurts!

The problem lies when there are extenuating circumstances. And with human beings there are often extenuating circumstances. We’re not mathematical equations, you see. Perfection is a myth.

There’s always a grey area, and for me, that grey area falls where an indiscretion is committed that only self-harms someone that has previously gone to extraordinary lengths to prove themselves as a focused, kind and generous individual who has achieved levels of physical prowess only possible by someone dedicated to healthy living and hard training.

When Michael Phelps last year made the mistake of hitting the bong rather than the billabong, offending millions and losing his Kellogg’s sponsorship deal, comedian Arj Barker was prompted to ask how many gold medals you have to win in order to be allowed to take a hit of marijuana.

Jokes aside (including some great quips about the irony of a cereal company punishing someone for getting stoned), I think he’s got a point. Couldn’t we all just get the fuck over it by considering that when the incident occurred it was not during a swimming competition, the guy had spent many years dedicating his life, his youth, fitness, eating regime and personal privacy to swimming for his country (and himself presumably)?

Given all the circumstances, couldn’t we just let that one go?

Aren’t we in danger of setting unrealistic, untrue, unattainable standards by not cutting our role models any slack? It’s like we’re photoshopping out all faults to ensure we are left with a humanoid ideal of how we think a role model should look and act.

Doesn’t this set up future generations for failure? To succeed you must never fail. And if you do, hide it at all costs.

This is in direct contrast with the testosterone-fuelled sports that define themselves with ‘boys will be boys’ cultures and where leniency rules the day and thugs are protected.

Being around a role model shouldn’t be scary and intimidating - and neither should being one. Extenuating circumstances can blur the argument. But not by much if you look through the smoke.

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