November 17 , 2004
Phelps owns up to error
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
"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.