The Phelps non-story IS a story…

February 01, 2009 | Drew Forrester

I think I’m the first to use this line, so let me get it out there now:

I don’t think Michael Phelps – and his career – are going to go “up in smoke”.

Nor should it.

But, the 8-time Olympic gold medalist is in deeper water than he’s ever been thanks to a dumb move on his part and a lesson not learned when he was 19.

Four years ago, Phelps was arrested and charged with DUI on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  He said all the right things in the aftermath and went on to greatness in Beijing and I’m 99.9% certain his drinking-and-driving-faux-pas didn’t affect his earnings-potential when 5th Avenue came calling after last summer’s Olympic Games.

People can forget a lot of your transgressions when you do something good for the country.

His latest run-in with stupidity took a few months to surface, but it’s now out there for all the world to see. Frankly, I’m shocked it took this long for a picture and the story to make headline news.  Phelps was at a party in South Carolina last November and decided to smoke marijuana.  Had he retreated into the privacy of the host’s bedroom and joined one or two others in a little weed-use, I doubt we would have ever found out.  For some reason, though, Phelps decided to act like any other 23-year old in the place and just grabbed the bong and participated in the fun and frolic like the rest of the gang.  Bad move.  Someone snapped a picture, whore’d themselves for a month or two until someone ponied up the bucks, and the photo is now a threat to the world of Michael Phelps.

Really, though, what’s the big deal?

I can see it from both sides and I can certainly give you reasons why smoking marijuana is bad – but in the end, what’s REALLY the issue here?  

Michael Phelps smokes pot.  Wow.  I remember making an off-hand joke at a Ravens game this year that he “looked stoned” based mainly on how he was dressed (with shades) in the club-level suite he was occupying. I’d have bet money Phelps was a toker.  I’m not shocked.  That he would stand in a room full of strangers and inhale from a bong?  Yes, I’m surprised that he’s that dumb.  

So, what’s REALLY the issue?  Did Phelps smoke marijuana and then drive his vehicle that night?  If he did, that’s 100% completely wrong.  If you smoke pot and drive, you’re a threat to everyone on the road.  You are, in my mind, as much of a criminal as the guy who has 5 beers at happy hour and gets behind the wheel.  Smoking pot and driving.  They do NOT go together.

If we would have found out that Phelps likes to sit home, smoke a little ganja, watch “Training Day”, listen to the new Springsteen CD and drink a glass or two of red wine before relaxing in his hot tub, would we all be up in arms over this?  In the privacy of his own home, do we really care what Phelps does?  I surely don’t.  

I care far more about the guy or gal who goes to Fells Point on a Friday night and insists on driving home at 1:30 am “because I know when I’m OK to drive and I’m fine right now…”.

I’m much more concerned about these greedy, filthy bankers across the country who have written themselves $16 million “buy-out” checks while damaging our nation’s economy.

I’m far more worried about the people who are bringing the marijuana into the country that Phelps smoked. Because, I’m sure, they’re bringing in plenty of other things that are far more powerful, dangerous and damaging than pot.  

And, while Phelps has millions of reasons (code word: sponsors) to be concerned about his reputation after his little bong-a-thon in South Carolina, our country should be more pre-occupied with the millions of Americans out of work while illegal aliens live, work and prosper right here in our 50 states.

I’m not giving Phelps a pass on this, but I think a lot of people are in over-reaction mode over this whole thing.  His biggest sin wasn’t smoking marijuana.  His biggest sin was doing it in an environment where some other stoned-goof with a camera phone saw a unique opportunity to score a celebrity-dope photo and turn that into some instant bucks at the expense of a guy who was probably just trying to impress a girl or two.  That’s what most guys are doing at age 23 when they’re at a party.  

Next Friday night when someone in Federal Hill gets pulled over with a .12 blood alcohol level, I’d like to see his or his name and photo on the internet somewhere.

When you drive on Interstate 95, do you go 65 miles-per-hour?  I’m betting everything I own that you don’t.  I don’t.  That makes us lawbreakers.  

If Michael Phelps buys marijuana and possesses it, he’s a lawbreaker too.  If he just happened to bounce into a party where they were passing around the pipe and decided he wanted to join in, I don’t see how we can treat him much differently than you and I going 77 MPH on I-95.

Color me nonplussed if the only story here is that Michael Phelps went to a party and smoked some weed.

Now, people who have invested marketing dollars with the image that is Michael Phelps-the-swimmer might not be too thrilled with the bong-in-hand photo and the admission from Phelps that the picture is authentic.  They could – and might – decide they don’t want their company affiliated with an athlete who smokes marijuana…no matter how rare the occasion might be.

That’s their call.  

If they take away his millions because Phelps smoked marijuana at a party during his “off-season”, then perhaps they’d be better off handing their money over to an athlete who doesn’t drink, use drugs, swear, have sex, listen to rap or rock-n-roll music, or gamble.

Good luck finding someone in the United States who fits that criteria.