If you have spent any time in recent weeks monitoring sports networks and websites, or even supposedly reputable news outlets like CNN, you may have heard something about Michael Phelps forever tarnishing his Olympic legacy, or something to that effect. Judging by media reports, one would think that the Phelps scandal was born out of something truly heinous – use of “performance enhancing drugs,” a revelation that he is the heir to Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church, etc. – rather than the seemingly misdemeanor offense of marijuana use.
To some extent, I understand the fervor, for a few reasons. Firstly, this is the modus operandi of modern news outlets; they deify athletes and public figures, only to tear them down when a miniscule transgression occurs. Additionally, news outlets understand that stories like this tend to create massive amounts of viewership and readership, and seek to capitalize on this attention by prolonging these issues for weeks at a time. Finally, regardless of what Phelps or Charles Barkley or anyone else says, his position as an elite American athlete automatically qualifies him as a role model for young Americans. Although many people of my generation, including myself, possess a rather casual and lax view of marijuana use, it is still an illegal drug.
That being said, no one should be surprised by Phelps’ drug use. His ability to swim should not and does not exclude him from the typical behavior of a 23-year-old male. If anything, Phelps’ behavior should not jar people, but amuse them. It has long been an American tradition to point and laugh at public stupidity, be it George W. Bush or George Foreman. How can Phelps be so utterly and incomprehensibly stupid? Did he really believe that taking hits from a bong at a frat house in South Carolina would not come back and bite him in the ass? Although this doltish behavior is not regular, people still shouldn’t be shocked. I’m sure I am not the only one who saw hours upon hours of Phelps-related stories and interviews preceding and following the Beijing Olympics. From these appearances and his somewhat infamous half-naked shirt twirl in the Disney Parade following the Athens Olympics, I placed him somewhere between Sean Avery and Jake Peavy in terms of blissfully unintelligent athletes.
After this incident, he’s on Roger Clemens’ level (who, you may remember, called a writer a “douchebag” in an e-mail to his steroid-supplying personal trainer). So, what can Phelps take away from this? By now, he should know that he’s too recognizable to hang out in frat houses, but that goes without saying. If he really wants to engage in normal behavior, he should at least wait a few years. Back in the day, I’m sure Mark Spitz was the bee’s knees and all, but these days he could lounge around in Lay Natatorium smoking angel dust and practicing his butterfly stroke and no one would bat an eyelash.
Lastly, if Phelps owes thanks to someone for the rest of his life, it should probably be Alex Rodriguez for shifting the focus to his own stupidity. A-Rod, a true patriot.