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Five things we learned from SI’s profile of Michael Phelps

Swimmer Michael Phelps is featured on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated, with a cover story by Tim Layden.
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Swimmer Michael Phelps is featured on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated, accompanying a story by Tim Layden that deals mainly with Phelps’s return from retirement and his 45-day stay at a residential treatment facility following his DUI arrest in September 2014. Here are five of the most noteworthy bits from Layden’s profile. 

Phelps learned of his suspension from competition while in rehab

On Oct. 6, 2014, Phelps was suspended for six months by USA Swimming as a result of his DUI arrest a week earlier. By that time, Phelps had already checked into rehab, where most of the other patients were apparently unaware he was an Olympian.

On one of his first nights, some patients were watching a football game in a common room. There was a cutaway during the broadcast of scenes of Phelps swimming and the news that he had not only been suspended for six months by USA Swimming but also banned from participating in the 2015 world championships. “I knew I was going to get suspended,” says Phelps. “I didn’t know they were going to take worlds away. I didn’t know that was even an option. Everybody in the room looked over at me. I said, ‘Yup, that’s me. Cat’s out of the bag.’ I stood up, walked over and got a drink of water, sat back down. ‘Yup, that’s me.’ ”

Phelps was in a ‘really dark place’ after his arrest

After his arrest, Phelps remained in his home for several days. He was “distraught,” Layden writes, “shaken at his poor judgment, terrified of its consequences.”

News organizations were camped nearby, looking for a glimpse of Phelps, who did not leave the town house for four days. “I was in a really dark place,” Phelps says. “Not wanting to be alive anymore.”

Ray Lewis encouraged Phelps to seek treatment

Phelps, a Baltimore native, is close with former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. In the wake of Phelps’s arrest, Lewis was among those close to Phelps who urged him to get help.

Lewis was among those who pushed. “I gave him some harsh reality,” says Lewis. “I said, ‘Bro, what are you doing with your life?’ ’’ (Phelps says, “He tore me a new one.”) Bowman also pushed, in a phone conversation. “When I talked to him, he said, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ I said to him, ‘You can do it, and you have to do it.’ ”

In treatment, Phelps rekindled his relationship with his father

Phelps’s parents divorced when he was nine and his relationship with his father has long been difficult. The two had fallen out of touch before Phelps’s arrest and subsequent treatment stint, but Phelps invited both his parents to participate in therapy with him.

Father and son weren’t communicating at all when Michael put Fred on his invitation list for family week at The Meadows. On Oct. 27, 2014, Michael saw his father arrive and embraced him. “He said, ‘I didn’t know if you would come,’ ” says Fred. “I said, ‘You’re my son. Why wouldn’t I come?’ ”  

Phelps’s coach wasn’t initially on board with his plan to come out of retirement

The 2012 Olympics in London were supposed to be Phelps’s farewell tour. He retired and gained 25 pounds before deciding in the spring of 2013 while on vacation in Mexico with his friends that he might not be done yet. He called his coach, Bob Bowman, who was less than enthused about the idea because Phelps had been difficult to deal with before the London games. 

“He called from Cabo, and he was obviously having a good time that night,” says Bowman. “He said, ‘I think I’m going to do one more.’ I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ I still had a bad taste in my mouth from dealing with him [between Beijng and London].” A few months later the two had dinner at the Four Seasons hotel in Baltimore. Bowman softened.

LAYDEN: After rehabilitation, the best of Michael Phelps may lie ahead