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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