Sports stars are not the same in US k

NEW YORK - The punishments of swimmer Michael Phelps and baseball star Alex Rodriguez don't fit their relative crimes, experts said, raising questions about how Americans treat their sports heroes when they fall from grace.

NEW YORK - The punishments of swimmer Michael Phelps and baseball star Alex Rodriguez don't fit their relative crimes, experts said, raising questions about how Americans treat their sports heroes when they fall from grace.

Phelps partied with dagga, a performance-detracting drug, and was suspended from swimming. Rodriguez took banned performance-enhancing drugs for three years and suffered no penalty but an uncomfortable television interview.

Swim star Phelps, 23, won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Games last summer but lost an endorsement deal with US food giant Kellogg Co after a British newspaper published a picture of him apparently smoking dagga.

USA Swimming then suspended him for three months.

Rodriguez, 33, the highest paid player in baseball, admitted to ESPN television on Monday that he took a banned substance from 2001 to 2003 after Sports Illustrated reported he tested positive for testosterone and the anabolic steroid Primobolan in 2003.

He escapes sanctions from Major League Baseball because it did not punish players at that time for using steroids.

"We should leave Michael Phelps alone. He's a kid. So he made a mistake. He owned up to it right away - as opposed to A-Rod [Rodriguez], who's been lying about it for a number of years," said Deborah Cohn, professor of marketing at New York's Touro College.

So far other sponsors have stood by Phelps, including Speedo swimwear, Omega watches and Visa.

Rodriguez, of the New York Yankees is on course to break the career home run record and his $27 million annual salary and stormy personal life have made him fodder for tabloids.

So far none of his sponsors have announced they were cutting ties. What would be worse to any baseball superstar, he may be denied entry into the sport's Hall of Fame after he retires. - Reuters

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