COMMENTARY: Michael Phelps: Dope or nope?

Why haven’t you skipped over this article already? This isn’t news!

But it’s Michael Phelps, the most accomplished swimmer in history. That makes him different and special. He was caught and admitted to having smoked pot before. Henceforth, the overall consensus is that he should be forever condemned for the fact that he perpetually smokes this performance-enhancing drug. Not only that, but kids idolizing Phelps will now begin to do it too, since it’s portrayed in such a good light.

Let us cast our minds back for a moment to November 2004, after the Athens Olympics, when 19 year-old Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Not only was he underage, but he was engaging in an act that endangered other people on the road that night. Who knows what horrors could have happened; yet it was in the news for about a week and then was forgotten.

Fast forward to last month, when Phelps, fresh off the most successful Olympics in history, was seen in a picture smoking pot. Not only is pot illegal, but pot is most commonly used by people aged 18–25 and he was endangering nobody outside of the party — or inside it for that matter. Phelps subsequently lost a sponsorship from Kellogg’s and was suspended from USA Swimming for three months, but most aggravatingly has been victimized by the American public. An anonymous swimmer poll that I conducted revealed that 82.3 percent agreed that people are overreacting to the Phelps bong issue, and 73.3% agreed that the majority of people responding to the issue don’t actually care for swimming and are just looking for a target.

“It’s like finding a picture of the spelling bee champ playing video games,” said junior Tufts University swimmer Lawrence Chan. “Even if the kid’s a genius, he’s still a kid and is going to do stuff kids do. People should leave Phelps alone.”

“It’s hard to be a role model 24/7,” said junior Carnegie Mellon swimmer Gates Winkler. “He was just having a good time at a party after training hard for four years and having no life outside of swimming. Yes, I think Phelps is an idiot, not because he let down the people who idolize him, but because he shouldn’t do that kind of stuff to himself.”

While most swimmers, myself included, claimed to have never smoked pot, the two overall sentiments were that marijuana is a performance-debilitating drug, so if Phelps can do that and still win eight gold medals then so be it, and that if this were any other non-Olympic swimmer, no one would care. For example, if a bad rumor were to be made up about the American swimmer who got a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics, would the media care? Of course not. He didn’t win a gold. No one outside of swimming even remembers his name.

It was Saturday Night Live’s Seth Myers, though, who summed up the real issue: “If you are at a party and see Michael Phelps smoking a bong and your first thought isn’t, ‘Wow, I get to party with Michael Phelps,’ but instead you take a picture and sell it to the tabloids, you should take a long look in the mirror.”