Missy Franklin's Big Decision

Colorado's teen swimming sensation is becoming a national phenomenon, but will she go pro after the London Olympics?
August 2012

Meet America's new sweetheart: Missy Franklin.

And with that position, the 17-year-old Coloradan is facing another round of questions about why she's been steadfast with her decision to forego potentially millions of dollars and remain an amateur swimmer. Undeniably, the pull to turn professional has never been stronger.

 It's easy to understand why. Just look at the numbers: Michael Phelps earned up to $5.25 million in endorsement deals last year. Ryan Lochte is reported to have signed contracts in the past year that could earn him between $3 million and $4 million. Would she be next? Probably. And remember the money would be going to a high school senior.

While I was reporting my profile of Franklin earlier this year, her parents were adamant that they'd go along with any decision their daughter made. So far, that's meant supporting her decision to swim collegiately where governing rules prevent most payouts to amateur athletes.

At Colorado’s high school swim championships late this past winter, her father was quick to list the negative demands that would be put upon his daughter if she turned pro. Among them, he feared, was that his daughter would have to succumb to a  heightened level of image-consciousness that might strip Franklin of everything that makes her special. Essentially, would she become a corporate robot? But this spring, when it became clear to her parents that their daughter would become one of the faces of the London Games, Dick Franklin seemed to waver.

“The decision is totally with Missy," he told me, "but we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t at least put everything out there for her. If she has three, four, five companies that want to sign her, we could be talking about securing her financial future before she’s 20. We told her, ‘Honey, people work their entire lives and don’t make this kind of money.’"

And then there was this, from her mother, DA Franklin, who had the overwhelming task of managing her daughter's media requests, travel, and drug-testing leading up to the Olympics: “I sometimes worry if I’m messing this up for her,” she told me….. “If we were allowed to hire someone to manage her, all of this would be taken care of. Instead, it’s me, and I have to figure out where she needs to be, and who she needs to talk to, and how much time she can spend at this place or that place. I’m a mom. I’m not trained for this.”

So, what will Franklin do? If she takes a scholarship, she'll likely swim collegiately for two years, turn professional, and then train in the year leading up to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. If she takes the money—and strikes at a time when her marketability is as high as it may be for the next four years—she could become an instant global icon, like Phelps. Franklin in a Subway commercial? Franklin in a Prius advertisement? Get used to the idea.

While everyone considers Franklin's next step after these Games, one thing is obvious: There are lots of people who want to make her very rich, very quickly. So as she marches through Olympic events this summer and finds herself on nearly every television station and newspaper in the United States, Franklin's decision is getting tougher—literally—by the swim stroke. But if her past is any indication, whatever decision she makes, it will be the right one.