I’m sure that many of you have already seen this picture which has been circulating around the internet for the last few days. It was first “uncovered” by a British tabloid (big surprise!) and has immediately put a rather large stain on the reputation of US olympian Michael Phelps, perhaps THE best Olympic athlete ever. This past Olympics in Beijing, Phelps stole the spotlight when he won gold in every swimming competition that he entered and ended up going home with eight gold medals around his neck, an Olympic record. He managed to overshadow all of the other big stories from those games, including Usain Bolt becoming the “fastest man in the world” as well the US basketball team reclaiming its spot at the top of the sport in a thrilling final against Spain. Sports Illustrated gave him “Athlete of the Year”. The Olympic committee anointed him “Sportsman of the Year”. When he returned to American soil, he received a hero’s welcome, appeared on all the major talk shows, hosted Saturday Night Live, and became “America’s sweetheart”, a role model that no parent would hesitate to point out to his/her child.
Fast forward to this weekend. (drum roll please) Michael Phelps has been caught smoking out of a bong! Holy Jeebus! What are we gonna do?!? Should we throw him in jail? Take away his medals? OMG!
As the title of this post suggests, everybody needs to just calm down. I have already read many articles stating that this is the beginning of the end for Phelps, that this one picture will ruin him. Let me just get a few points out there:
- Anyone who has ever smoked marijuana (or known anybody who does) can (in no way, shape, or form) argue that it could ever enhances one’s athletic prowess
- Moreover, anyone who has ever smoked marijuana (or known anybody who does) could probably argue that it might worsen one’s athletic prowess
- He is 23 years old, just won more gold medals than anyone else ever has at the Olympics, and is probably drowning in endorsement money; does he not therefore have the right to party a little bit?
- People forget sometimes just how young he is, therefore should he not have the right to act like most 23 years old’s in this world do?
- The summer Olympics are every four years, he has never tested positive for banned substances during the games, and marijuana (rightly so) does not fall into the rubric of “performance-enhancing drugs
Here is a snippet from Phelps’s statement:
“I engaged in behaviour which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment. I’m 23 years old and despite the successes I’ve had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again.”
I must admit to doing a double take when I first read “I acted in a youthful manner”. He’s 23 years old, people! He is a youth!
Now of course I realize that all of his sponsors must be in an uproar about this. He did have some obligation to the people throwing large sums of money at him to act responsibly and maybe with a tad more subtlety. But for the average fan, should anyone really care about this? Phelps commenting that he “acted in a youthful manner” makes me think, wow, this guy has grown up way too quickly. I mean, doesn’t he still deserve (despite all his success) to be a youth, to go out and have a few too many, and yes, to maybe smoke some weed with his buddies? Sure, his sponsors may be severely dissapointed, but I say, go on Michael, live a little! You have everything anyone could ever want in this world.
Now, if during the next Olympics, you’re caught with a drug in your blood that actually enhances athletic performance, we need to talk.