Integrity Matters
November 17 , 2004

Phelps owns up to error

Question: (E-151)

Dear Jim:

Michael Phelps, the golden boy of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, with eight medals in swimming, was arrested for drunken driving. What kind of integrity is he showing?


Phelps made a serious mistake during the first week of November. He is 19. He carries a global profile and has stained it. However, he is a winner in the way he has acknowledged his mistake. He has demonstrated courage in speaking with the very young people who look to him as a role model.

He personally read a statement of apology, acknowledging his mistake:

"I'm 19, but I was taught that no matter how old you are you should always take responsibility for your action, which I will do. I'm very sorry this happened and it was a mistake."

Integrity is not about saints who operate perfectly all the time, but about human beings striving to be the very best that they can be, willing to own their mistakes, openly and honestly, when they happen. Over and over, it is from the young that so much can be learned. Case in point, note what young people from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Monterey County said to me about the definition of character. Character is simply consistency between word and deed. It asks us to answer these questions about how we act, all the time. I hope in the affirmative: Do you exhibit congruence between what you say and what you do, as well as what you say about what you did? Do you exhibit the right behavior? The children said that character requires each of us to respect others and ourselves while being an example of courage that shows what it means to be fair, firm, consistent and kind. Character is what people do when no one is watching.

Integrity matters, even when mistakes happen, and Phelps has proven the children right, yet again. Character is what you do when no one is watching. Thank you, Michael Phelps, for caring about doing the right thing, in spite of your error in judgment and showing integrity when it really counts -- when your own reputation has been stained and only you can fix it with honesty, openness and graciousness.

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