Olympic Champion Michael Phelps Caught Smoking Dope: What Do You Think?

Posted February 9, 2009 by

Michael Phelps is back in the news. But this time instead of gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated as Sportsman of the Year, his face is splashed across the tabloids nose deep in a bong. I thought the one tabloid had a pretty catchy title, “What a dope.”

And to me that about summed it up: a really stupid move.

So what about Michael Phelps?  I have been asking this question of lots of people lately as a discussion- starter. I am all too familiar with the world of marijuana and what can happen as a result of smoking. I also am familiar with the world of swimming, having swum in college at the National Level and then as an age group swim coach.

Two opinions (with plenty of variations) emerge:
One is that he is a star athlete and couldn’t possibly compete at such an elite level if he were a druggie, so lay off, after all, he is probably just having some “fun” making up for lost partying time, give the guy a break, blah, blah, blah.

The other is that he is a role model in the sports world and as such is held to a higher standard and needs to behave like someone who has been given the title “Athlete of the Year.”  You know, wholesome; worthy of his face on the Wheaties box.  Unfortunately for him, that endorsement is gone.  Kellogs apparently doesn’t think the partying theme is one that ought to be advertised and endorsed.  Good for Kellogs.

I read on one blog that everyone just ought to lay off the poor kid. After all, it was all just presumptive. Give me a break.  His nose is stuck in the bong, which presumably meant there was pot in it, which presumably meant he smoked, and yes, pot is illegal.  Stupid move.  And it cost him big time:  Millions of dollars in endorsements and three months of suspension from US Swimming.

The fact that it is illegal, let alone the character statement it makes, seems to elude most people.  I hear the same old argument over and over again.  “It’s only marijuana, what’s the big deal, everyone does it…at least it isn’t heroin.”  The fact is that marijuana is a big deal; a more subtle big deal because in the world of relative evils it isn’t so bad.

But if it’s no big deal, and the other cheek is turned and it is accepted as a typical rite of passage activity, then we have officially entered the land of slippery slopes.

Admittedly I am a much more “shade of gray” person than I am black and white. But pot use is illegal, is the drug of amotivation and has landed plenty of people in a legal mess. I know, my son was one of them.  So it has become much more of a black and white issue for me personally.

But just because Michael Phelps is doing what “every other” twenty-something is doing (which is NOT the case) does that make it OK?

Here are the reasons why I don’t think so:
* He is a role model. If someone awarded Athlete of the Year Status by Sports Illustrated isn’t a role model, then I give up. And role models don’t engage in illegal behavior, or shouldn’t anyway.  I am all too painfully aware of plenty of athletes who do all kinds of damaging and illegal things, but I don’t think they are correct either. What happened to character integrity?

* He has the bucks to pay for legal help to dig him out of this debacle. Not everyone does. Why is it OK that the rich guys get off?

* Pot and the discipline that it takes to be a great swimmer just don’t go together. I prefer the work ethic to the party ethic myself.

* Saying it is a “no-big-deal issue,” or “hey  at least he didn’t drink and drive and end up killing someone” is just following the wrong line of reasoning. Those things are wrong, too and there needs to be consequences for them.

* He should face the same consequences any other dude would. Marijuana got our son court-ordered out of our home. Is that no big deal? No one was running to let him off the hook. He didn’t have celebrity status. It shouldn’t make a difference.

What do you think?


Kathy has four children, aged 9, 12, 24 and 26. Her second son was seduced by marijuana when he was 16. Kathy is now a published author of "Winning the Drug War at Home". She is also a childbirth educator and is writing a pregnancy and childbirth book. Kathy graduated from Brown University with a degree in Health and Society, and also has a BSN in Nursing.

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  1. lawlady Report

    I think there are a lot of interesting comments, some more accurate than others. I think we walk a very interesting line when we say things like, ‘he should be held to the same standard as everyone else,’ and then follow that with, ‘he’s a role model and he should know better.’ There is something in there that sounds a bit like hypocrisy. Not to mention, I wonder how many of those taking the time to write in today have ever smoked marijuana? The point is that it is illegal, however as an attorney I can tell you that it does not carry the same degree of consequence that more hard core drugs do. Now, you can be mad about that, but it doesn’t change that from being true, nor does it make that Phelps’ fault. I do not crucify the photographer; was he an opportunist? Sure. However, that’s not what caused Phelps to break the law. The problem I see is that the role models these kids we are talking about really need, are their parents. Am I happy that Phelps did what he did? No. Was I disappointed? Absolutely. Just as I have been in myself countless times when I’ve done something really stupid that I shouldn’t have. More especially, when I get caught doing that something. I don’t want my kids to idolize anyone, but I do use folks in the spotlight as a teaching opportunity. I don’t want my kids to feel like they have to be perfect. He made a mistake, or used bad judgment, or was stupid. From the Total Transformation Program way of looking at things, what consequence should he have for that, and does he serve it, because that’s what I want kids to learn and that’s what I’ll try to teach my kids from this experience. Once he serves his consequence, let it go. It isn’t for us to continue to brow beat him for it, what does that teach our kids. If he continues to make choices like this, his consequences will increase. But let’s not become witch hunters suddenly assuming that he “needs to clean up his act.” We have no idea if this was the first, second, or last time. Our job, as a society, is to decide on consequences, hold people accountable, and then resume to normal activities. Unless you would like the police following you home then next time they give you a speeding ticket, to make sure you don’t do it again.

  2. makusan Report

    Mr. Phelps, I believe is an adult, over the age of 18 and has the choice to do and put into his body as he pleases, and he recieved feedback (in the form of lost $$$ and opportunity) for that choice. He will either continue to make choices that cost him or he will stop and do something different. No one needs to say anything…but I guess opinions are like belly buttons…everyone has one.

  3. Annita Woz Report

    Hey Kathy! update on this story…Michael Phelps will not be charged as the police do not have enough evidence to do so as reported on CNN today.

    Isn’t this so interesting on many levels?

  4. Joe Report

    It would have been better if Kellog’s hadn’t dumped Michael Phelps and had instead sent him out on an anti-drug campaign. Corporations are in the news every day for corruption, greed and scandals. It’s too bad they couldn’t have worked together to make something positive from this situation. Michael Phelps is modern day hero, and he could influence a lot of kids with an anti-drug campaign.

  5. Success Coach Report

    Let him be the twenty something ADHDer that he is. All the blogs in the world saying he should be responsible will not exceed the times he’s heard it before. I celebrate his success.

  6. TambraLynn88 Report

    You know what: People need to stop being so judgemental.Try walking a mile in someone elses shoes before you make any comment. You have no clue what that kid goes thru every single day of his life. You think you might have a clue….Lets see any ol average smoe go and when 8 gold metals like Mr. Phelps. What he didnt deserve is the idiot that betrayed Phelps’s trust and snaped a pic of him and sold it to the highest payer.Ok so Kellogs kicked him to the curb no more sponsor from them…Now who is that hurting really??Ask anybody who Michael Phelps is and they know.Yes he shouldnt have got his picture tooken then sold. He did stand TALL and take full responsability.My 10 yr old sold said it perfect…..EVERYONE DESERVES A SECOND CHANCE PHELPS BETTER HAVE LEARNED FROM HIS MISTAKE. meaning we do not hear of this kind of behavior ever again.Young kids do look up to Phelps, My child is one of them. But if he {my child} can be so for-giving why cant we all….???

  7. kathy pride Report

    I have numerous thought in response to the spirited discussion generated.
    Going back to the first comment, I agree with what Anne K.had to say. There are many rites of passage, and pot smoking doesn’t have to be one of them.
    I also agree with Mr. Polo Field that he took responsibility and didn’t try to make excuses. I still think his talent lies more in swimming than judgment or speaking.
    I lso agree with Merk’s comments. I don’t think our youth need such a high profile individual making stupid choices. He is a role model, whether he views himself as such or not. Role models need to behave in ways worth emulating. He didn’t do that.
    Also, my thoughts related to ADHD are that it is not an excuse. A reason to not use, as Anne K. said, but not an excuser of stupid and illegal choices.
    I like what Kim H. had to say about mistakes. And I think that a mistake like this, given who it was making the mistake carried a lot of consequences and scrutiny. Sure there are plenty of other (too many) twenty somethings smoking pot, which is the drug of amotivation, and certainly not a performance enhancing drug, but they didn’t win 8 Olympic Gold medals. And I have a huge problem with different standards being applied to pro athletes, CEOs and politicians.
    I have to say that Taz has added much to spark discussion. I happen to not agree with most of his view points. I do agree that no human being is perfect, but I also think that the bar is a bit higher for people in his position,like it or not.
    It is a sobering time to be raising children. I think that too many things have become acceptable. I think integrity is going down the tubes and there need to be individuals who are not afraid to state firmly what they think is correct.

  8. WitzEnd Report

    What kind of Freedom Is it that takes the freedom of others.
    You and I are not judges. I wouldn’t be throwing stones. As far as role models go He’s not that bad maybe you would rather have some WWF person for your childrens role model (No drugs there I’m sure)

  9. Connie Hunter, BA, ChT Report

    Been there as a step-mom, seen that. The gifted are always targeted by losers who pride themselves in devouring the gifted to make them losers too. Phelps should have read some books on “One Upmanship” instead of sucking bonks and sitting in a closet playing with his own belly-button. Now he can stick his nose into the street gutter, poke needles in his fingernails, suck his toes and try to be the best dope addict ever!

  10. Tazcoach Report

    You make a lot of good points. Celebs are dealt with differently because they can afford the best defence money can buy. But when we place individuals on pedistals they don’t always live up to our expectations. Accoding to Daniel amen adhd kids who go off their meds to early in life do experiment with drugs. Again these kids don’t think things through. We are so quick to rush to judgement. To answer you question I don’t know if mr phelps had a role model. Your assuming he did.
    After all he is human and not perfect. There has only one perfect individual and he was nailed to a
    cross a very long time ago. We as society build
    these athletes up then when they stumble we tear
    them down. Again, the man running the country did

    drugs when he was young. After all mr phelps is
    only 23. With people losing their jobs every day
    michael is the least of our worries as parents raising
    our kids these days

  11. JC Report

    Tazcoach… You stated, “He didn’t ask to be a role model for our kids. He is an exceptional swimmer. That’s all.”

    What a ridiculous comment. Sports heros and role models go hand in hand. Do you think Michael Phelps had ever heard of Mark Spitz when he was growing up and learning to swim competitively??? Don’t you think Spitz was Michael’s role model??? Sports figures have beed role models since the time of man.

    Michael would have to be brain dead not to realize that his fame would have a positive impact on many young aspiring atheletes. When he was signing endorsements, he knew full well he was being advertised as a role model to encourage sales from people who look up to him. Also, I’m sure he knew that any negative behavior would be discouraged by the sponsors, his coaches, and his family for the same reason. He was irresponsible, got caught, disappointed many kids and people who think smoking pot is wrong, and HAD TO apologize for his behavior (damage control) to keep his lucrative endorsements.

    I’m really tired of giving atheletes, movie stars, CEOs, and politicians free passes. Our country is going down the toilet while the average individual is held accountable for his/her actions and prosecuted in a court of law when the law is broken. Just because money talks, doesn’t mean it is right.

  12. Tazcoach Report

    Sk8tlady, nice post I concur life goes on. He can’t change the past but can do better in the future . The community service was a good idea. And the dare program also .

  13. sk8tlady Report

    Phelps is an Olympic athlete. He is an eight-time Olympic Gold Medalist. He is an adult. With his ability, strength, and achieved status, we’d hope Phelps could “Just Say No.” We tell our kids that, and as I’ve raised my kids, when it comes to drugs, smoking, and drinking, No Means No. No shades of grey or excuses. It’s wrong,illegal, and physically harmful. It’s just not okay so let’s not make excuses and pretend like it is. At Phelps’ level, his behavior is disappointing. We’d assume he’d understand the risks and consequences of his behavior, not to mention legal issues. I doubt it was a first time. He needs to clean up his act and be the outstanding athlete that he is and role model we thought he was. Train hard, serve out the suspension, and take on community service: community DARE programs and rec center swim lessons might be a good place to start over.

  14. Tazcoach Report

    Ms Intergy, you spoke of the “media” What a joke, the media is biased. Look at the last election. Obama could do no wrong. He’s even tried drugs and he is now running the country. Let’s keep things in perspective here . He experimented with drugs got caught and now is paying the price. It’s not fair to put your expectations on him. Yes he broke the law but who doesn’t . You don,t go over the speed limit that’s breaking the law. It was marajuna not crack or meth. Were making a mountain out of a molehill here. The person who took the picture took advantage of what he saw as a way to make a quick buck. Was it legal for this guy to take mr.phelps picture? Let’s hold the picture taker to the same standard

  15. Ms. Integrity Report

    We are the ones to enforce laws and punish those who break them. We, society. Not only do we tell Mr. Phelps “how to live his life”, we hold everyone equally responsible for illegal acts. Breaking the law is a criminal act. Drugs should not be condoned, nor should any crime be thought as simply a rite of passage. Integrity and moral values in these cases of a “fallen role model” must be reinforced by our voices and the voice of the media.

  16. Tazcoach Report

    The bottom line is who are we to tell this highly talented swimmer to live his life. He made his choice, not one that was thought well through. He didn’t ask to be a role model for our kids. He is an exceptional swimmer. That’s all, he is also human can anyone of us say we haven’t done something we regret. Can’t we all just mind our own business

  17. Kim Harris Report

    P.S. A “mistake” is walking into the wrong bathroom, or turning left instead of right. Mr. Phelps did not make a “mistake”. He did not think he was at an oxygen bar, enjoying aromatherapy. He displayed poor judgment, made a bad choice, just “screwed-up”. Calling his action a “mistake” excuses it, IMHO.

  18. Kim Harris Report

    This is just another example of why the public shouldn’t idolize athletes. Just because someone displays talent in one area does not make that person worthy of general adulation. In other words, a talented athlete/actor/musician does not necessarily equal a good/moral/ethical person. Mr. Phelps may or may not prove to be a good role model for our children. His poor judgment in this pot-smoking incident sways me to think not. But his job is not to be a good role model; it is to be a good swimmer. We the public need to separate the two in our own minds and shift our attention to people we want our children to emulate.

  19. edavepilot Report

    Who cares! It’s not like marijuana is a performance ENhancing drug. If he’s been stoned in Bejing, he would have come in 20 minutes AFTER his opponents instead of 100th’s of seconds before. He is the best and proved it. Let him party a little.

  20. sweetie Report

    I think people are making excuses for Michael. It doesn’t matter if he’s ADHD or not…It’s still illegal and his judgement or maturity was displayed.

  21. Elisabeth, EP Editor Report

    I agree with Mr. Polo Field. I think it was good that Michael Phelps took responsibility and apologized. When it comes down to it, he has to live with his mistake for the rest of his life. It will be interesting to see how he learns from it.

  22. Aunt Susie Report

    Re: Michael Phelps; I wonder what else he is has done on his way to athletic stardom? He probably has been under such strict training that he may have been dared, and/or just was letting off steam….neither are excuses for his bahavior. All interviews that I saw during the Olympics s showed him to be pretty intelligent, so now he must live with his mistake and hopefully learn from it; since he is still a young man. He did not think through what he did so that shows how immature he was and he did not leave the sponsorship companies much leeway to do anything but cut him loose. His comments that banking officals did much worse and did not even get a slap on the wrist and government officals too, were very telling, but still no excuse for knowing the difference between right or wrong. Sadly, not a responsible person that sets an example
    for for anyone at this point. The fact that he smoked has not excaped the youth of the world thanks to the internet, “my space”, etc, within seconds of the picture being released. Hopefully he will use this mistake to help turn around his life choices.

  23. merk Report

    I already have such a hard time convincing my teenage boys that the oh so funny movies that they think are so great showing their favorite stars getting high, Jack Black, Ben Stiller etc, etc, etc are not the real world. Of course in my teenage day it was Cheech and Chong with UP in Smoke. But now a famous swimmer that we all sat glued to the TV and were so proud of, has made the most stupid mistake of his life and is now paying for it big time. I guess it brought home my point to my children that if you do something stupid today, you never know when it is going to come back to haunt you. So as I tell my kids, before you do it, think, would my parents approve, would my teachers approve, would my coach approve and if the answer is no then dont do it. I tell my children, I see all, know all and hear all eventually. I am as dissapointed in him as I would be my own child.

  24. Tazcoach Report

    To answer your question, no I haven’t paid for the program. It’s to pricy for my budget and I to have a child with ADHD. Have you listened to the 1hour and 20min video on YouTube by russell barkley ? He is the resident authority on the subject. ADHD kids see the same things that you and I do but their responce is different. Also another good authority is Daniel amen. I am not excusing what he did and he did the right thing by taking responsibility for it. However, he does deal with something that every day that you may not have to deal with. So tell me michael how would your life monitored 24/7. He made a mistake it wasn’t his first it won’t be his last. What those morons are doing in congress is more important than if phelps puffed on a bong or not.

  25. JC Report

    Apparently, the ADHD diagnosis hasn’t interferred with Phelps’ discipline and focus on swimming. I think, after the olympics, Michael let his hair down: Las Vegas girlfriend, partying, etc. I wonder what behaviors didn’t get on camera??? However, as an adult, he is free to do anything he likes and if he choses to break the law or tarnish his reputation, then he has to deal with the consequences. Unfortunately, his behavior has probably mortified his mother and other family members who also have to deal with the repercussions following this incident.

  26. GrowupMichael Report

    Taz – are you sure you listened to the TT program? Regardless of what his ‘diagnosis’ is, poor behavior is poor behavior, not a reason for it to happen. He’s an ADULT for pete’s sake! “I wasn’t going to actually smoke it, but the pressure made me do it?” PLEASE! Good timing for this month’s article by Mr Lehman! I’m sick of the lame excuses and agree that poor choices should, and do eventually have, consequences. Welcome to the real world.

  27. kathy pride Report

    Thanks for the thoughts.

    I couldn’t agree more with the statement that the line between right and wrong choices have been blurred, and that parents are lowering their standards.

    As for ADHD, I have a son with ADD without the H, and you are correct, he often doesn’t think things through. But illegal is still illegal.

    And finally, I didn’t know Kelloggs was dropping him prior to this, so absolutely shame on them for capitalizing on this incident. And I agree he did take responsibility and didn’t try to weasel out of it.

    The other thing is, shame on the person who took the photo and then sold it to the tabloid. That brings up an entirely different discussion…

  28. Mr. Polo Field Report

    The most important things to take from this is Phelps got caught; he took responsibility and he has accepted his punishment.

    Also, Kelloggs was dropping Phelps before the incident. They took advantage of the situation and used the incident as the reason for dropping him. Shame on Kelloggs!

  29. Tazcoach Report

    Just remember that he is adhd and if you knew anything about that you wouldn’t hold him to the same criteria as every one else . ADHD kids don’t think things through. The thought “what if I get caught never entered his mind. It’s a proven fact that adhd kids who go off their mess to soon try drugs. Sports hero or not he is still human prone to what every human does make a mistake every once in a while. If you would study ADHD like I have you would understand him more. Russell barkley has a video on youtube “management of ADHD watching it would be worth your time.

  30. Anne K Report

    There are right choices and there are wrong choices. Society has blurred the lines and we as parents have lowered our standards. Sadly, our youth have responded accordingly.

    There are many “rites of passage” that our youth can engage gage in and pot need not be one of them. What is wrong with a community service project?



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