Fourteen-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps is back in the news—not for the breaststroke, but a pot-toke.
Over the weekend a British tabloid published a photo of Phelps appearing to take a toke off a waterpipe filled with marijuana smoke. The photo was purportedly taken at a University of South Carolina house party in November, three months after his eight-gold performance at the Beijing Olympics.
In a statement released by his agent, the 23-year-old Phelps apologized and said he “acted in a youthful and inappropriate way.”
Wait a second, I spent four years in university, so if there’s one thing I know about, it’s house parties. To be impeccably honest, smoking dope from a bong is a perfectly appropriate way to conduct yourself at a university house party. At least, it certainly beats such other commonly appropriate acts as falling off the roof and breaking a limb or passing out in a puddle of vomit, both of which are linked closer to kegs of beer than bowls of pot.
Since the story—and I use that expression freely—broke, even the airwaves over Whitehorse are filled with radio hosts wondering if this will destroy his career.
Why the hell should it?
According to rules laid down by the World Anti-Doping Agency, marijuana use among athletes is only a concern during a competition, unlike steroids that, if found in an athlete’s system at any point, can result in retroactive disqualifications.
Remember when Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati was stripped of his gold medal in the 1998 Olympic Games after testing positive for traces of pot in his blood immediately following the event? He still got his medal back because, as the joke goes, reefer is only a performance enhancer if there’s a box of Twinkies waiting at the finish line.
Since the pic surfaced, some of Phelps’ sponsors have announced that, although they don’t condone his behaviour, they will stand by him.
But perhaps you’re thinking he’s now a tainted role model that should be locked in a dungeon, away from the public eye because this is the worst thing a public figure can do.
Does Phelps being arrested in 2004 for drunk driving while under the legal drinking age ring a bell?
Let’s do a little comparison. Driving drunk puts yourself and others in danger; smoking pot puts your diet in danger.
For cryin’ out loud, the current US president admitted to marijuana AND cocaine use in his autobiography. But, arguably the greatest athlete in Olympic history inhales some smoke from a plant that grows naturally on six of seven continents and he’s gone too far to be forgiven.
Buy a clue, sourpusses. Lets save our condemnation and pedantic judgments for politicians who are supposed to be leaders in society.
Thankfully, most people seeing this for what it is: a fluff story of tremendous proportions.
Looking at online responses to the pic, for the most part, the only people who give a damn—other than fluff-hungry reporters—are celebrity gawkers and social conservatives still uncomfortable with black people sitting wherever they want on a bus.
As much as athletes are invariably regarded as role models for our youth, Phelps spent years training so could swim fast, not lead the younger generation into an era of enlightenment and world peace.
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