Ryan Chartrand

Oh, how we like to bring our heroes down. Forget his eight gold medals in Beijing, forget the fact that just five months ago we were parading him around as a national icon, a superhuman athlete and an Olympic story for the history books. In the eyes of the righteous, all of that glory is now overshadowed by the looming image of our hero taking a bong hit.

Oh my. With all the brouhaha surrounding the photo of Michael Phelps smoking pot, you’d think he actually harmed someone.

He didn’t. Phelps smoked a little weed at a college party, and the media wouldn’t have been the wiser except for some goody-two-shoes with a camera phone.

He’s never tried to dispute the legitimacy of the photo and quickly issued a brief apology admitting that it was bad judgment on his part: “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.”

With marijuana now essentially ingrained in pop culture, and with an estimated 83 million Americans having consumed it, why all the fuss? There are comedies about it – although they’re never any good – ranging from the most recent “Pineapple Express” to the slightly more classic Harold and Kumar movies. According to the wise Wikipedia.com, “humans have been consuming cannabis since prehistory,” and the even wiser National Household Survey on Drug Abuse reports that 37 percent of Americans age 12 and older have tried marijuana at least once.

If the answer to the Phelps pot commotion is that we hold Olympic athletes at a different moral standard than ourselves, I have to wonder about the morality of an ethical standard that doesn’t pass the universality test. Phelps is a young man, and albeit his extraordinary swimming abilities, he never asked for preferential treatment beyond his status as an Olympian. To condemn him for smoking pot while college students his age across the country do it every day is plain hypocritical.

Of course, we must not forget that marijuana is illegal, at least in the eyes of the federal government. Now, whether a law governing what an individual may freely choose to consume is constitutional. well, that’s another matter and another column altogether.

There is already talk that many of Phelps’ corporate sponsors may not renew their contracts with him, and that’s certainly understandable. After all, no sensible business wants to be seen as condoning illegal or controversial behavior.

But the condemnation of Phelps is even more ironic given the great many celebrities and even politicians that partake in socially questionable behavior. Our newly inaugurated president admitted to having done cocaine during his youth, and now resorts to lighting up a cigarette when the urge hits him – a substance that is arguably more harmful than marijuana but just so happens to be legal. Who really even knows what George W. Bush did during his youthfully rebellious college days? And then of course there’s Bill Clinton who “didn’t inhale” and John Kerry who “didn’t like it.” Let’s not even get into some of the more musically-inclined pot smokers – the most famous of which I think would wisely say, “Let it be.”

But yes, by all means, let’s crucify America’s most extraordinary athlete over a little weed. Anything to preserve the status quo, right?

Marlize van Romburgh is a journalism senior and the Mustang Daily editor in chief.

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