By now, everyone has seen the grainy picture of Michael Phelps smoking a bong at a party at the University of South Carolina. Recently, police have questioned two people who were at that November party. The South Carolina police are being nothing more than bullies, à la Mike Nifong, the prosecutor in the botched Duke alleged-rape case. Rather than learning from that debacle, prosecutors seem intent on gathering information on 14-time gold medal winner Phelps, a superb athlete who should not be crucified as an example for the phony war on drugs. By the way, South Carolina law calls for a maximum fine of $500 for the possession of drug paraphernalia, making their investigation much ado about nothing.
One cannot help but feel a bit sorry for Phelps. Clearly, it was not someone in his inner sanctum who took that picture. It was maybe a friend of a friend who thought he was getting the photo-op of a lifetime, with the winningest Olympic athlete smoking a bong right before his very eyes.
Celebrities are people, too. They eat, drink and shit. People like to say that if you put yourself in the spotlight you deserve whatever criticism comes your way. But in the case of Phelps and other athletes, this is a shame. They are no attention-grubbing talentless whores on Vh1. They are just people who have worked hard to be at the top of their game, yet they must go through all the trials and tribulations of the media spotlight. It does not seem fair that Amy Winehouse can be caught on camera taking a hit of crack and still have a vibrant music career, complete with a Grammy, or that Kate Moss can snort cocaine publicly in a club and still have a modeling career, whereas Phelps might lose what he worked so diligently for over a generally harmless drug. Had Phelps come tumbling out of a bar three sheets to the wind, the media would have run with the story for awhile, he would have apologized and that would be the end of it. Instead, he and his friends may face criminal charges over a drug so ubiquitous that at any given time most people can find a friend or family member who either can get them some or already has enough to share.
Marijuana will not impede one’s ability to drive the way several alcoholic drinks will. It will not make the smoker more prone to violence. Used in moderation, it is not as dangerous as alcohol is. But Phelps will not be lauded for choosing pot over beer at a college campus.
The silver lining may be that marijuana use will be discussed in the media again and perhaps the few people still vehemently opposed to its legalization will re-assess their opinions, and see that, when used in moderation, it will not permanently harm any one person or their dreams.