Jim Alexander’s column on Tyler Clary dissing Michael Phelps had been up online for about 4 1/2 hours Monday night when the writer’s phone rang.
It was Clary, hoping for a do-over of sorts. But in journalism as in swimming, that doesn’t happen.
“He wasn’t angry with me,” Alexander said Wednesday, a day after his column in The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Cal., drew more than 10,000 page views and a veritable tower of babble in the world of swimming.
But the swimmer who made headlines by calling out Phelps for allegedly not working very hard wanted to pull back his scorching remarks, Alexander said.
“I thought that was off the record,” he said Clary told him, to which Alexander responded that the rules are you have to request that before not after you start talking. “And then he said, ‘Can you pull the column?’”
Clary, 23, spent much of the day under fire, at least online. In the real world, he and Phelps are working out with the rest of the London-bound U.S. team at a training camp at University of Tennessee in Knoxville. (No word from there on how chilly the water is between the two swimmers.) Clary ultimately apologized to Phelps via his Twitter account.
Alexander, who has spent his nearly 40-year journalism career at his hometown paper, knew what Clary was saying was newsworthy but is still shocked at how very newsworthy it turned out to be.
“My son texted me, ‘You were on PTI,’” Alexander said of the ESPN show.
The writer said he thinks Clary was simply “unburdening himself.” And, indeed, it’s easy to imagine how hard it must be for swimmers who work hard for years only to bump up against the glass ceiling that is Phelps.
Alexander thinks a CBSSports.com blogger might be onto something: Jerry Hinnen wrote that Clary perhaps should embrace the black hat he suddenly finds atop his head as the villain who tried to take down the king. The brouhaha has brought him more attention than he’s ever had, Alexander said.
“He was the best swimmer nobody knew about,” he said of Clary.
Maybe it could be like WWE, Alexander said, and ominous music could play as Clary walks to the starting blocks. “This is the guy who dared to speak ill of Michael Phelps,” Alexander said.
The columnist won’t get a trip to London to see any such thing happening — like many newspapers, The Press-Enterprise is on a “local mission” to cover its environs, and the UK falls a bit outside the circulation area. Alexander, though, may still have a reason to cheer on his fellow Californian.
“If he actually beats Michael in London,” he said, “maybe I’ll be forgiven.”