The Double Life Of Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps is the world's most accomplished Olympian of all time after lapping previous record-holders for most gold medals won overall, individually, and in a single season's games. The seasoned swimmer has proven himself to be one of Team USA's most prized competitors ever, but with that prestige comes intense scrutiny as well. Beneath his calm (albeit at times meme-able) surface, there have been some major issues that have bubbled up more furiously than his cupping bruises. Let's take a deep dive into Phelps' complicated past.

His multiple DUI charges

Phelps is literally the poster boy for self control—his discipline-centric Under Armour ad declared, "rule yourself." However, shortly after he made a splash at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece (where he won six gold medals and two bronze medals), he was arrested for driving under the influence in his home state of Maryland. The then-19-year-old pled guilty to the charge, accepted his probation, community service, and fine punishment, telling the media that it was an "isolated incident" and that he'd learned his lesson.

However, he was again arrested for DUI a decade later, in 2014. The so-called "Baltimore Bullet" dodged any jail time for the second incident as well after submitting to a 45-day stint in rehab and telling the judge in his trial he "was able to find out a lot about [himself] that [he] never knew" during his treatment and sessions with Alcoholics Anonymous. Phelps said he believed he had "a much brighter future" ahead of himself because of the lessons learned after the incident. The judge granted him another round of clemency that would allow him to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil—but suspended his driver's license for a year and awarded him an 18-month probation sentence.

His run-in with reefer

Whoever said to keep your friends close and your enemies closer didn't understand the dangers of the digital age. Phelps might have kept his head above water after his first DUI charge, but his reputation became especially hazy after he was photographed smoking from a marijuana bong at a University of South Carolina party in 2009. It called into question the legitimacy of his image for promoting aquatic safety, health, and aquatic sports, ultimately costing him a valuable sponsorship deal with Kellogg's cereal brands.

Phelps had previously emerged as a role model/icon for swimmers and played the part of someone actively involved in promoting the sport (he donated the $1 million he earned from a Speedo deal to charitable organizations with such prerogatives). But after his drug use was so publicly documented, USA Swimming suspended him for three months and put him on blast for having "disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming members who look up to him as a role model and hero." Talk about being thrown to the deep end.

He's battled with depression

After the waters cooled back down from the boiled-over pot picture, Phelps again resumed his healthy lifestyle promotion image by establishing the Michael Phelps Foundation to provide financial support to swimming programs with Boys & Girls Clubs around the country, saying that he loved being around children and "see[ing] a real, true smile and excitement on a kid's face."

Beneath that sunny, positive exterior, though, was a man very much suffering with issues of identity and depression. His longtime coach, Bob Bowman, revealed to The New York Times that after Phelps announced his retirement at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England, "he had no idea what to do for the rest of his life." Phelps, whose resting grumpy face at Rio became a source of cheeky meme fare, really was once "miserable" in his trainer's eyes. After his second DUI, he reportedly even told his agent, "I don't want to be alive anymore." It was then that he decided to seek rehabilitation at The Meadows treatment center in Wickenberg, Arizona.

His major relationship woes

Phelps got engaged to his on-and-off girlfriend Nicole Johnson in February 2015, and the couple welcomed their first child together, a son named Boomer Robert Phelps in May 2016. But before he and the former Miss California beauty made it official, he was rumored to have been in a relationship with a 41-year-old transgender woman named Taylor Lianne Chandler, who wrote that he "makes Charlie Sheen look like an amateur" and that "he took everything" from her before their split.

Phelps also had a publicly strained relationship with his father, Fred Phelps, whom his mother divorced in 1993, when Michael was just nine years old. Though his trainer Bowman became something of a substitute father figure for him, Phelps admitted to Sports Illustrated that he struggled with the absence of his biological dad. Their falling out was a result of the elder Phelps being a no-show at an event where he earned his first American record in 2003 and for him unexpectedly bringing his new wife to his first Olympic events in Sydney, Australia in 2000. They've since patched up their relationship as best as possible, but Phelps' father was still noticeably absent from the Rio Olympics.

He's had some notorious attitude issues

Phelps often seems like a fun-loving guy in the public eye, but according to MMA fighter and UFC superstar Ronda Rousey, he was a total jerk behind the scenes at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. Rousey told the press that the swimmer, who'd rack up a record-breaking eight gold medals that year, treated fellow competitors at a club badly. "Michael Phelps needed his own private section of the club to be, like, private for him," the bronze medal-winning judo fighter said, adding that she and the basketball players who were dissed and dismissed by the swimmer thought, "Hello, we're your teammates. We're not a bunch of groupies."

To be fair, Phelps has since acknowledged his own attitude issues, telling The New York Times that going to rehab opened his eyes to how he'd been acting around others. "I was afraid to show who I was, so I had all these personas," he explained. He's since decided to embrace his more jovial impulses to talk freely and open up to others.

His plans to retire are doubtful

Although Phelps has unequivocally declared that the Rio Olympics will be his last, Ryan Lochte, the fellow Team USA swimmer who's always been at his flanks on this level, thinks his second round of retirement plans will sink fast. In fact, Lochte told the press that he fully expects to compete against and alongside Phelps again at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. (Lochte was previously right about Phelps' withdrawn retirement plans after London—he even bet the star himself $1,000 he'd come back for Rio.)