Olympian Michael Phelps journey started in Baltimore and now has covered five Olympics, winning 28 Olympic medals and 23 gold medals. He is considered one of the greatest athletes of all time. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Michael Phelps' whole career has been an athletic statement nonpareil, but on Friday morning, he was literally working on a statement. Because that's what you do when you're going to Capitol Hill.
In a Facebook Live live-stream, the retired swimmer, one of five witnesses scheduled to speak Tuesday at "Ways to Improve and Strengthen the International Anti-Doping System," a Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing in Congress, explained why he was so keen on speaking out in Washington.
On whether swimming has become a dirty sport
"I think a lot of sports have become not really what they should be about. For me, as a kid, growing up, I wanted to be the best athlete that I could be and challenge myself to become the best, and for me, I was able to get there really just from working my tail off. That's really it. And making sacrifices and not making excuses and challenging myself everyday. So I think there are a lot of people [doping], whether it's in swimming or in track and field or all sports, really.
"I think there's for me also now, as a dad, it's like, I don't want my son looking at sports as: To be able to get to the best, you have to take a performance-enhancing drug. I think that's just so stupid. And it's just so wrong on so many levels. That's what I'm really looking forward to, being able to have that opportunity to speak out about my true feelings. I've never really truly been able to do it, and it's something that I'm looking forward to having that chance to do. Like I said, I've been able to compete so much in my career and reach the coolest parts and the highest parts, really, but I haven't really able to speak my mind about what I truly believe at times. So that's what I'm going to do."
"When I say this next comment, I'm not calling out a single person, by any means. I'm saying it just in general. For me, I think I can honestly say I don't know if I've ever stood up on the block and competed against a completely clean heat. I can obviously pick and choose who I think [they] are, but I think that's sad in sports, and I don't think any athlete should ever have that chance or that feeling that somebody else is at an advantage of using a performance-enhancing drug to help them."
On why he's coming forward
"I just think there are too many people that are cheating. That's the easiest way to say it. Look what happened at the Olympics — all the athletes that tested positive that were still allowed to compete. I think that's wrong and I think it's unfair. So I think that's something that needs to clean."
That Phelps would want to put himself out there in retirement is unsurprising; his criticism of dopers was unsparing when he was still active. As NBC Sports' Nick Zaccardi pointed out, he hailed Team USA teammate Lilly King's criticisms of athletes in the Rio Games who had been punished for previously doping.
"I think you're going to probably see a lot of people speaking out more," Phelps said. "I think [King] is right; I think something needs to be done. It's kind of sad today in sports in general, not just in swimming, [that] there are people who are testing positive who are allowed back in the sport and multiple times. It kind of breaks what sport is meant to be, and that's what [ticks] me off."