Michael Phelps bong photo

Michael Phelps, party animal? That's fine

Just make him drop the goody-two-shoes image

Baltimore boasts two sports phenomena struggling to reconcile upstanding corporate images with trashy party sides: Michael Phelps and the Preakness.

No telling how long that pot-smoking, stripper-groping hedonist had been trapped in the body of a disciplined Olympic role model. But we've seen this personality split before.

The storied horse race is an unlikely mix of antebellum lawn party and Woodstock: Maryland society in hats out of Hello, Dolly! on the corporate village side of the infield, and on the public side, drunken revelers out of Animal House racing across the tops of portable toilets.

Both swimmer and horse race say they want to shed half of their dual identities.

Yesterday, the day The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Van Valkenburg reported that Phelps is considering throwing in the Olympic towel so he can party in peace, Pimlico announced that it had outgrown its BYOB bacchanalia.

No more coolers of beer allowed. Beer will still be for sale, but in this economy, having to shell out $3.50 for every 16 ounces should cut down on drunks.

The boozed-up infield was a "rite of passage for 30 years for the youth of Baltimore, but change is inevitable," said Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas.

Phelps, for his part, isn't making a similar vow to grow up. Sounds like he's looking for a way to stay young and irresponsible, just out of the spotlight.

But Phelps needn't give up swimming to walk on the wild side. What he has to give up is his fake corporate goodie-two-shoes image.

I don't honestly think it's in Phelps' best interest to smoke pot, drink like crazy and bed lots of Vegas hotties. But if that's how he wants to live, he can do so without dropping his sport. He just needs to drop the Opie Taylor act perpetuated by his aw-shucks interviews and kid-oriented product endorsements.

His bad-boy ways will sell fewer tabloids if they're not at odds with his target market.

He and mom would lose sponsors, of course. Even a high-fructose corn-syrup-pusher like Tony the Tiger has his limits.

But as the Ray Lewis of swimming, Phelps could surely pick up some new sponsors. Cordish, for one, could use a pitchman for that Arundel Mills casino.

Something for the boys
To soften the no-BYOB buzz-kill, Pimlico is adding entertainment meant to make sure the Preakness infield doesn't grow up completely. ZZ Top (the band whose first big single was "Tush," the news release points out). Virtual paintball. And professional beach volleyball. Women's teams only, naturally.

"You probably know the [target] demographic," said sports promoter Lee Corrigan. "Volleyball with good-looking, athletic women - you really can't beat that, can you? And a cold beer at a reasonable price."

Phew! For a minute there, I thought the frat party was over.

An eye for the buttons
Michael Steele dismissed Barack Obama as an empty suit last summer during the Democratic National Convention, but that hardly hurt the future president's career. So Steele tried the label on himself.

Asked at a news conference last week how he'd fix his party's negative image, the newly elected Republican National Committee chairman stepped from behind a podium and joked: "Well, I got a nice suit, and the tie is good."

Among those impressed with that answer: Kwab Asamoah, owner of Kustom Looks Clothier, where Steele gets his snazzy duds - including the pin-striped suit and blue shirt he showed off for the news media that day.

 
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