Is Michael Phelps the Biggest Jerk at the Olympics?

A Blog About the Olympic Games
July 24 2012 5:30 PM

Is Michael Phelps the Biggest Jerk at the Olympics?

Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps looks on during a training session ahead of the London Olympic Games.

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

As I mentioned in my introductory post, one of my goals over the next few weeks is to answer the question that haunts us all: Who is the biggest jerk currently competing in the Olympics?

Nominee: Michael Phelps

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Known for: Smoking pot, hogging medals, being a merman.

Why he might be a jerk: Seems standoffish and cocky. Female MMA fighter and bronze-medal judoka Ronda Rousey reports that, during the 2008 Beijing Games, Phelps refused to hang out with the other members of the American team, even going so far as requiring a private VIP section when the Americans all went to a nightclub. “I don’t like being somebody’s teammate and being treated like I’m a groupie,” Rousey told reporter Elie Seckbach. “I didn’t even want to go out of my way to say hello to that guy. Get over yourself.”

Why he might not be a jerk: He once donated $1 million to charity—though, granted, the charity to which he donated was the Michael Phelps Foundation, which has the goal of “growing the sport of swimming.” Self-serving! Also on the positive side, he once made a pretty funny commercial with Jared from Subway. And from what I can tell, Ronda Rousey is a very intimidating person. I, too, might avoid her in a social setting, because I’d be afraid that she’d misinterpret something I said and fling me violently to the ground.

Jerk score: I’ll give Phelps 3 out of 3 for style, because he showed nice jerk form in requesting his own, private VIP section in that Beijing nightclub. (I bet he spread out on the floor and took a nap. Mermen love naps.) I’ll give him 1 out of 3 for technical merit, because he sort of failed to stick the landing on that pot controversy. I’ll give him 1 out of 3 for effort, because he really could be a lot cockier if he wanted to be. (“I can eat seven Subway sandwiches in the time it takes you to eat one, Jared, you refrigerator-pants-wearing chump!”) And I give him 0 out of 1 in the “has he ever pushed a rival into the pool” category. Because, no, as far as I know, he has never done that. Total jerk score: 5/10.

Who’s worse than Michael Phelps? Let me know in the comments.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.