It's been a long time since I felt like the Olympics were a big deal to us Americans. Maybe the last Olympics that felt this 'present' in American culture was 1976. Bruce Jenner was winning decathlon Gold, Nadia Comeneci was cute as a button and America cared – deeply – about the Olympics.
Boycotts, the Cold War becoming more lukewarm, and America's waning dominance seemed to cause Americans to lose a level of interest in the Olympic games. All that changed this past month in Beijing, to a great degree because of one man – Michael Phelps.
The eight-time gold medalist made, what probably seemed like an offhand comment at the time, telling a reporter from the Baltimore Sun last week that it "would be cool to play in the World Series of Poker". Phelps is apparently quite the grinder, his play drawing generally good reviews from those who have played with him at a casino in Windsor, Ontario Canada according to a story recently published by the Windsor Star.
Almost immediately after Phelps pronouncement, the poker world lit up, knowing what a boon it would be were Phelps to provide even the slightest endorsement of the game of poker.
Speaking of endorsements, Phelps agent, Peter Carlisle told CNBC last week that he was getting '50 pitches a day' before the eighth medal, and that that number 'had increased exponentially' since the eighth gold medal landed on Phelps chest.
Needless to say, Phelps has bigger things on his mind than poker. It is said that his endorsements this year may rival that of another athlete – some guy named Tiger. We're talking tens of millions of dollars this year.
So, what can poker reasonably expect from Michael Phelps? Many of the publicly traded companies paying him big money may not exactly be thrilled to see him come out in a big way promoting the game we all love for fear of a backlash from conservative shareholders.
The first thing any fan of the game of poker should expect is for Phelps to get all the money he can. The guy has earned it. He worked his butt off his whole life, knowing that even the slightest mistake when it mattered the most could cost him untold millions.
So, how to work this young man's passion for the game of poker into his newly found ultra-famous life? Simple. Just play. Don't make a big deal out of it, just play the game you love. The more you allow the 'machine' of the new world of poker to participate in your life, the more complicated things may become on the endorsement side of your life.
Oddly enough, it might just be a bad thing for poker (in the long term) if Phelps came out too strong on behalf of poker. One of his big sponsors complains, the agent 'talks some sense into him', and that's the end of Michael Phelps, public poker player (at least for the duration of his time in the spotlight).
But, if Phelps just goes about playing the game he loves without anyone making a big deal about it, he might just be able to, in a subtle way, provide a lift to this game by just being loosely associated with it. If, in the hearts and minds of Americans, Phelps is considered a poker player on any conscious or subconscious level, the game will benefit by the association, both in the short, and the long term.
Mr Phelps, congratulations on your achievement of a lifetime. You should be very proud of yourself. When the world stops going 150 miles an hour for you, go play some poker. I promise we'll all be here, trying our best to beat you. You should expect nothing less.