Dolphin-like Olympic champ Michael Phelps is like that dude in the poem who has come to two roads that diverge in the woods. Except Michael Phelps has far more money at stake than that guy. Now that Phelps has won the races and gripped the strippers, his full-time job is endorsing products in return for sweet cash, the nectar of life. Even his mom is in on it! But Phelps is already screwing up. Now is when you determine whether you're the next Tiger Woods or the next [obscure swimmer], Mike. We're here to help, for a small cut. Micheal Phelps' current endorsements include Speedo, Visa, Kellogg's, AT&T, Rosetta Stone, PureSport Beverages. The first would be better if it was Nike or Adidas. The last two are crap niche products that will bring down Phelps' brand value. The middle three are okay (although Wheaties would have been preferable to Corn Pops). What Phelps has to realize is that there are only two paths for athlete endorsers to take: the Nerd path, personified by Tiger Woods, or the Badass path, personified by Ray Lewis. It's simple, really. Can a middle-aged white businessman imagine hanging out with you for a day, and maybe making friends? Then you're a Nerd. Tiger is the uber-nerd, and he's made it work to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Do you think Tiger motherfucking Woods drives a Buick? No, old people drive Buicks. But Tiger is nonthreatening enough that old people can imagine him plausibly driving one to their cocktail party, and then hitting a few putts in the putting green in their den. Pals. Ray Lewis is a superstar linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. He was on the cover of Madden 2005. He's also been indicted on murder charges. He will end you. Do you think Ray Lewis is going to come over to your apartment and sit on your couch and play Madden with you and offer you a high five and drink your Capri Sun in a spirit of friendly sportsmanship? No. You fear Ray Lewis, and that is why he's an effective endorser. This is a spectrum, but everyone falls on one side or the other. Michael Jordan is at the friendly end of Badass. Donovan McNabb is at the cooler end of Nerd. Michael Phelps has placed himself squarely on the nerd track. The question is, is that the way to go. Look, Phelps: you're young. You're going to be a tabloid star. You don't want to be Tiger Woods, a cold-blooded machine with an icy, beautiful wife, a billion bucks in the bank, and a Buick in the driveway. You want to be the Jordan of swimming: towering and inapproachable in the pool, and a relaxed, smiling cigar-smoker out of it, surrounded by women as you play craps with money that Cuba Gooding Jr. gave you for the privilege of wearing your underwear. So lose the Speedo and the Rosetta Stone. Take up with Adidas and some Italian airline that will buy you your own villa. Keep up the aggressive grip. Grow rich and prosper. Send us 2%. [I know you're actually a nerd, Mike. It's irrelevant.]
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