Michael Phelps Controversy

Despite the laws that ban its sale and consumption, many people Phelp’s age and younger smoke marijuana on a regular basis. Is pot use unfairly stigmatized, or is Phelps in the wrong? (Alan Berner/MCT)

Published: February 26, 2009

Early this year, a British tabloid published photos of swimming star and record-breaking gold medalist Michael Phelps smoking from a bong. Phelps quickly apologized for what he called “behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment,” but still the incident sparked a clambor of outraged criticism of Phelps and renewed controversy over the illegality of marijauna.

Should Phelps be punished? Banned from swimming? Arrested? Jailed? Should marijuana be legal, or remain illegal? The debate below, in a Point-Counterpoint!

POINT: There’s No Hope in Dope for This Role Model

Staff Writer

A record-holding Olympian, Michael Phelps is revered as a hero by many. After there were pictures released of him smoking marijuana, he has been subject to criticism and lost endorsements from Kellogg’s and Subway. Some suggest that these companies are overreacting and that Phelps is a young man and a celebrated American athlete—why shouldn’t he be able to smoke a little bit of pot?

He shouldn’t be allowed to smoke pot because he is a role model. Doing so sends the wrong message for those that look up to him. Marijuana is an illegal drug, and it’s illegal because it is not entirely safe. If we excuse Phelps for his actions, we are also implying that it is okay to smoke pot. However, illegal drugs are not okay no matter who you are, and Americans should learn to say no to drugs from a young age—not be fine with it.

If the government wants to set a good example for the younger generation, legalization of marijuana is not acceptable. If pot were legal, many more young people would get access to it. The young do not need to start getting high, and they certainly should not develop a habit that leads to use of other harmful drugs. While cocaine, heroine or methamphetamine may not be an immediate threat, curiosity may lead to further drug use. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, stated that “numerous deleterious health consequences are associated with [marijuana’s] short- and long-term use, including the possibility of becoming addicted.” Any user, regardless of age, would be subjected to the drug’s behavioral and psychological effects, which may lead to depression and to the lung damage that comes with smoking.

We certainly don’t need these drugs available on the streets. If legal, more doped-up people may go behind the wheel and put others in harms way. Alcohol has killed many people throughout America. If marijuana were legalized, there would only be more. As there are clearly dangerous repercussions, I am against the legalization of marijuana, and I am fine with the media bashing that Michael Phelps is getting for his inappropriate behavior. He should not lead his fans to think that they could achieve his level of success without discipline—which involves not doing any drugs.


COUNTERPOINT: Phelps, Stoner Athlete of the Century

Contributing Writer

Michael Phelps is a down-dirty-no-good-rotten-drug-user. He’s a pothead, a druggie, a doper, a stoner, a reefer, a hash fiend, a grass smoker, a bong ripper, an eight-time Olympic gold medal winner. Wait, what? He’s an American hero who won eight Olympic gold medals? And he smokes marijuana sometimes? I’m not even disappointed; that’s amazing. Most marijuana users I’ve met aren’t exactly Olympic-level athletes. And he didn’t just win eight gold medals—he really WON those gold medals, setting world records in multiple events. Simply put, he’s a lot better at swimming than any other human ever. If he’s that good at swimming and apparently not worried about its effects on his performance, he should be able to smoke all the marijuana he wants.

Yes, Michael Phelps is an American hero and a role model to millions, and he should by no means condone the use of illegal drugs. But just because a photo got leaked of him smoking a bong doesn’t mean that he thinks everyone should do the same. He was partaking in an activity that thousands of college kids his age do every day. In fact, a 2004 study estimated that 52.6 percent of 23 year olds have used marijuana during their lifetimes. So maybe he’s a little more average than we all thought. Before this, I was positive he was a government-manufactured robot with specially shaped feet and a disproportionately long torso—designed as an aquatic weapon for the Coast Guard. Now it looks like he’s kind of just a regular guy that makes dumb mistakes at college parties and just so happens to swim really fast.

So should he really be punished with a three-month suspension and fired by his sponsor Kellogg’s? I understand that U.S.A. Swimming couldn’t entirely turn its head the other way, but a three-month suspension and the withholding of his monthly stipend is a bit more than just a slap on the wrist. I don’t even know what Kellogg’s is thinking of by firing him based on the grounds that his “most recent behavior is not consistent with the image of Kellogg’s,” said Susanne Norwitz, a spokeswoman for the cereal manufacturer. Publicly condemning someone who smokes marijuana sure seems like a pretty poor way of showing gratitude to millions who’ve gotten stoned enough to actually buy their sodium-saturated snack treats.

Kellogg’s doesn’t understand what people want in a hero. Squeaky-clean heroes are boring. It’s just more interesting to have a hero that’s a little bit flawed, a little bit more human, a hero that messes up sometimes. Ambition, hard work and success are all things to aspire to, but flawlessness maybe isn’t. Everybody makes a mistake at some point. While not everyone can or should relate to Phelps’s use of marijuana, people should certainly be able relate to the occasional screw up.