On smoking swimmers
So Michael Phelps apologized—and he got his sponsors back. Over break I had the pleasure of watching a commercial where Phelps got a solid 1.5 seconds of airtime, with nothing to say whatsoever about Phelps’ earlier pot scandal. Of course, all of the pretending in the world won’t fool anyone into thinking Phelps didn’t take a healthy rip from his bong, but the better question remains: Why do we still care? Perhaps the most reasonable answer is that we simply shouldn’t care.
Of course, the first and foremost objection that comes to mind is that what Phelps did was illegal. This is fine and true: People acting as role models should refrain from breaking the law. Even so, we would not care if Phelps blew a stop sign, even though both acts are illegal. Hell, nobody cared nearly as much when Phelps blew a DUI, even though a DUI is far worse than smoking pot—at least Phelps did not endanger anyone else’s life smoking reefer off the streets, away from harm. Rather, the main issue at stake here remains remarkably clear: We simply perceive marijuana consumption as inherently more immoral than alcohol consumption. The fact remains that Phelps shouldn’t have to apologize for his pot consumption any more than he should have to apologize for drinking alcohol (so long as he doesn’t drive). At the end of the day, Michael Phelps did not do anything immoral: He did not harm any individual, even himself, (if we are to believe the medical research done on the negligible health effects of marijuana), and while we may find many of his actions disgusting or uncomfortable—imagine a tabloid shot of Phelps masturbating—we have no room to justifiably assert that Michael’s marijuana use is a matter of public morality.
Of course, this is not to dodge the main issue: Michael Phelps shouldn’t have gotten caught smoking pot. Anyone in a position of prominence in the media should always make sure to keep any unsavory actions, whether immoral or merely distasteful, away from the public eye, and when someone gets caught, they have nobody to blame but themselves. What Phelps should have apologized for was not smoking pot, but getting caught smoking pot. And ultimately, this makes sense: He wasn’t taking steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs. If anything, the pot smoked would only (in theory) hurt his lung capacity. Phelps’ actions had nothing to do with his athleticism, and for that we should praise him equally for his athleticism. But if we are to sincerely revere him as an athlete, then we shouldn’t care about what he does outside of the pool that does not affect him inside of the pool. To be sure, Michael Phelps is a pot smoker. But he should be a proud pot smoker.