Pubdate: Mon, 9 Feb 2009
Source: Birmingham News, The (AL)
Copyright: 2009 The Birmingham News
Author: Ray Melick, Sports columnist
Bookmark: (Opinion)
Bookmark: (Marijuana)


In the midst of our obsession with which team hat a generation of high
school football players chose to wear on National Signing Day last
week, a national hero was caught in a bong show.

Michael Phelps, whose medal count in last summer's Olympic Games is
only surpassed by the number of commercial products he's been hawking
ever since, attended a football game at the University of South
Carolina last November. Afterward he went to a house party where he
took at least one hit of marijuana from what is referred to as a
"bong," or smoking device.

Since what the world hasn't seen enough of in the past six months are
action pictures of Phelps, it isn't surprising that this action was
captured by someone with a cell phone camera. It doesn't matter who.
Doesn't every college kid have a cell phone camera these days?

The picture wound up on the cover of a British tabloid last week under
the clever headline, "What A Dope."

My initial reaction was that anyone who attended a South Carolina
football game last fall gets what they deserve.

What was particularly interesting to watch were the unfolding waves of
reaction to the Phelps story last week.

The first wave was a rush by some to suggest what Phelps did was no
big deal. After all, the idea that college students, athletes, and
certainly college student-athletes, might be smoking a little organic
weed is hardly news to anyone who spends any amount of time around
those groups.

Initially, quite a few of his sponsors, including Speedo. Visa and the
Omega watch company, accepted Phelps' public apology and were quite
content to move on.

Then came the second wave.

South Carolina authorities said they would look at the picture to see
if charges should be filed. USA Swimming suspended him for three
months. Cereal maker Kellogg said it would not renew its sponsorship
agreement with Phelps because the image of Phelps sucking on a bong
"is not consistent with the image of Kellogg."

It was as if in the midst of all the debate someone seemed to
remember, "Oh, yeah, smoking marijuana in this country is illegal."

We can argue whether marijuana should be legal. We can argue over
whether athletes should be role models. We can argue that to put
athletes or actors or singers on a pedestal - to be held up as an
example for young kids to follow - is just asking for them to let us

However, businesses in this country would not give a guy like Phelps
millions of dollars to represent their products if they did not think
Phelps' image would somehow influence someone, somewhere, to use that

So if an image of Michael Phelps on a cereal box or wearing a certain
type of watch can entice people to use those products, then doesn't it
make sense to assume that when those same people are faced with
certain moral or ethical decisions, Phelps' example might have the
same influence?

Regardless of how you feel about the hero concept, there is one part
of all this we should agree on. What Phelps did was clearly illegal.

And, hero or not, isn't obeying the law one of those basic behaviors
we should agree on?

Join the conversation with Ray by reading his column and commenting in
his X's and Uh-oh's blog at
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake