Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Speaking of Image

Doyle Brunson, Michael Phelps, Todd BrunsonSo a few nights ago (Saturday night-Sunday morning) I had one of of those weird, vivid dreams most of which survived to remain in my consciousness upon waking. I’ll spare you the crazy chain of circumstance that led up to the dream’s final scene, but it ended with me watching the Olympics -- both in person and on television (not sure how).

I was watching a newly introduced sport that combined platform diving and card tricks. Divers would dive into the pool from ten meters or whatever it was, swim the length of the pool and get out the other side, then on a small table perform some sort of card trick. I’m not making this up.

When I explained the dream to Vera Valmore, she asked me if the cards were waterproof. I assumed they were. She also asked me what I thought might’ve inspired the dream, and all I could come up with was last week’s announcement of this summer’s WSOP schedule, with its novel tweaks and various whatnot.

Would’ve been easier to explain, I think, had the dream come the next night, after I heard the news (along with everyone else) about Michael Phelps’ apology following a U.K. tabloid’s publication of a photo of the 14-time Olympic gold medal winner hitting a bong.

When I read that story, I immediately thought of that Todd Brunson article in the November 11, 2008 issue of Card Player describing Phelps bringing an entourage of 40-50 people to Vegas to stay at the Palms and meet and hang out with some famous poker players.

Brunson describes a long, fairly raucous night beginning with a big steak dinner (with lots of drinking), followed by a basketball game, a poker tourney, then some roulette in which Phelps won over a grand. By then it was early morning, and Brunson leaves the group to sleep for 12 hours. When he rejoins them at dinner the next night, “Michael was already in full swing at the bar,” ordering a drink for Brunson and “making fun of one of his friends for not drinking.”

Michael PhelpsThe article goes on, with Brunson marvelling at Phelps’ capacity for liquor. “‘Incredible,’ I thought to myself. This guy was drinking some sort of mixed drink when I got here, then the tequila, then the whiskey, all in less than five minutes!” (I suppose a dude who consumes 10,000 calories a day or whatever it is should be able to handle a bit more booze than yr average drinker.) In the end, Brunson concludes Phelps to have been a super friendly guy who was “on cloud nine,” letting go a bit after the many years of discipline that led up to his Olympic triumphs.

I’m not judging Phelps at all, and in fact would tend to echo Brunson’s conclusion that the man is certainly entitled to live it up a bit. I was actually surprised when I read the Card Player article that the story told there didn’t appear to make the mainstream media, although perhaps some tabloids did pick it up and I missed it. Of course, drinking never suffers the backlash smoking dope does, even if the moral distinction the public tends to make between the two is a sketchy one.

Knowing the significance of appearances, it seemed a little remarkable to me that Brunson would report Phelps’ drinking and partying with such nonchalance. While letting go like that would be perfectly normal behavior for yr average 23-year-old, for a guy like Phelps there are obvious risks in doing so. Especially in public. As it turns out, that probably was a mighty expensive buzz the swimmer caught off that bong, as many of those lucrative endorsement deals he snagged along with those eight golds last summer have opt-out clauses regarding just this sort of conspicuous, public embarrassment.

I guess the other part of the story that interests us poker players is the fact that Phelps has made known his interest in our game and even played in a tourney or two during his Vegas trip. I wrote a post back in August in response to the news that the star athlete was talking about playing in the 2009 World Series of Poker, optimistically titling that post “The Poker Cause: Phelps Helps.” There I speculated a bit how Phelps coming around to the WSOP “instantly affords poker a kind of credibility in mainstream society.”

Of course, now I suppose we have to wonder if that is really the case.

Phelps has time to rehabilitate his image, certainly. But I guess I wonder now whether poker perhaps takes an image hit if Phelps comes around to Vegas to play in some more tourneys? That is to say, would Phelps playing in the WSOP inspire the general public more readily to associate poker with other vices...?

I ask that question knowing full well how absurd such a line of thinking is. But the human mind works in strange ways, making associations where one would least expect it.

Like this dream I had the other night....

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Blogger OhCaptain said...

Do people associate football with steroids to the point they don't let their kids play? It always surprises me that the vice surrounding poker is magnified and open pointed to as reason to stay away from it yet the rampant use of drugs in other sports are just the bad apples.

I quit watching NBA basketball years ago when it became the National Thug Association. Football has been waning for me as well. I miss the team sports.

I'm sure Phelps smoked a bowl or two while not playing cards as well.

2/03/2009 10:36 AM  
Blogger Kevin Mathers said...

It appears Phelps started training for the World Championships (qualifying in the US is July 7-11, in the middle of the Main Event). I'd think his smoking a bong prevents him from a possible appearance at NBC's Heads-Up Poker Championship (which also is airing the US swimming trials). An appearance at the WSOP in 2009 seems unlikely at this time.

2/04/2009 3:29 PM  
Anonymous Arctic Ghetto said...

Its a shame Phelps had to apologize for taking a bong hit. He appears to be a generous young man. This country consumes mind altering substances, legal and otherwise, like a fish drinks water. Shop-aholics and money junkies abound. From the out of control din the self righteous knuckle heads pipe up "Stop that, your a role model.". If they came up with a piss test for hypocrisy this whole country would collectively blush.

2/04/2009 9:37 PM  

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