Tug of War over Michael Phelps

2 comments, 03/02/2009, by , in Opinion


I really wanted to write about Michael Phelps but I had to hold on a minute. I knew the story was too simple to speak about. Superstar athlete gets caught smoking marijuana, supposedly. Immediately, I knew everyone would jump on that; I couldn’t. I felt the story needed some complexity before it was worth writing about. Well, the issue just got good.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says he will charge Michael Phelps with a crime if he determines the Olympics hero smoked marijuana in Richland County…

“This case is no different than any other case,” Lott said Monday. “This one might be a lot easier since we have photographs of someone using drugs and a partial confession. It’s a relatively easy case once we can determine where the crime occurred.”

Possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a $570 fine, plus court costs.

Richland sheriff could charge Phelps by Adam Beam @ The State

Two Sides

From what I am reading in comments and other articles, it seems this is good for both sides of marijuana legalization. The prohibitionists want to seem strong against drug use so demonizing Michael Phelps will be a good move. However, Michael Phelps is not just some geeky guy from the suburbs. He’s a world record holding, Olympic swimming champion. He’s a role model to millions and promoted as such. To bring down Michael Phelps is not just some typical everyday arrest. It’s the destruction of American pride. That’s a very hard thing to do and no one wants to see it happen.

While those supporting marijuana legalization don’t want to see another good person, or true role model, go down, it’s not such a bad idea that Phelps will become a victim, or martyr, of an archaic system that has gone awry from day one. People will begin to question the validity of a policy that could place an icon in prison for such a minor infraction. People will question the validity of the arguments that keep this policy in place. Finally, people will want to know, “If marijuana is so dangerous to your health, then how did this guy manage to set world records and win so many medals?”

Racial Element

Just the image of Michael Phelps with a ROOR bong to his mouth alone has brought to light much-ignored conversations regarding the racial disparity of law enforcement, especially when it comes to marijuana use. Matt Fogg, former US Marshal and LEAP speaker, probably said it best when he said, “[Black people] make up 12% of the population, but [they] make up 80% of the drug arrests….” The questions being thrown around in this debate question whether or not Phelps isn’t going to be punished at all simply because he’s white.

But, Michael Phelps is more than just white. While his skin may preclude from a lot of persecution at the hands of law enforcement, there are also other reasons he won’t be persecuted. He’s rich with endorsement deals and various other income streams. That kind of money usually frightens police officers and district attorneys alike. He’s famous. That will definitely haunt some people in the future. He has the support of Octagon. He’s still a role model. Toss in the realities of the many marijuana smokers that have already invaded our society at high levels. Take a look at Celebstoner to get a “whiff” of all the big celebs who toke on joints on a daily basis. President Barack Obama was a pothead. With that too cool and calm demeanor I believe he still gets his high from time to time.

Is Marijuana dangerous?

Is marijuana the dangerous substance it’s claimed to be by the prohibitionists? The easy answer is no. Marijuana is not dangerous. Marijuana didn’t prevent Obama from becoming president nor was it so dangerous to stop Phelps from being a world swimming champion. Should Phelps be punished for marijuana use? According to the current law, he absolutely should be. Not only was he engaged in smoking marijuana but he should also have a paraphernalia charge for having that ROOR as well. Maybe, the Richland Country sheriff should pull a Rachel Hoffman on Phelps so we can all find out the identity of his supplier.

No, No, and No

If Michael Phelps is punished, how far will it go? Will the “righteous” police sheriff arrest and charge Michael Phelps? Will the school officials opt to investigate the situation? Will the IOC be willing to strip Phelps of his medals?

But Lott seems to be the only person talking about making a case against Phelps. Both the USC and Columbia Police Departments said they would not pursue charges.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Phelps’ sponsors — from apparel company Speedo to luxury Swiss watchmaker Omega — issued statements calling the incident a “nonissue.” The International Olympic Committee accepted his apology.

“We have no reason to doubt his sincerity and his commitment to continue to act as a role model,” the IOC said in a statement.

At the University of South Carolina, where Phelps was visiting when the picture was taken, the mood was largely “who cares?”

“He’s young, and he is human. They’ll probably let him off easy because he owned up to it.”

– Richland sheriff could charge Phelps by Adam Beam @ The State

Oh well. Sorry for all of the suspense. It looks like another case where someone who’s rich or famous or white gets away with a criminal act because they’re rich or famous or white. This definitely opens the door to many more questions. If it’s such a “nonissue” and the general mood is, “who cares?”, then why is it such an issue for so many millions of others, mainly African American males?

About anthonytaurus

  • I think people are making a big deal about nothing.

  • I frequently get accused of playing the “race card” when bringing up the racial disparity of drug prohibition enforcement. I’ve also been accused of fighting someone else’s fight, because I’m not black. However, the empirical evidence shows that the enforcement mechanisms are systematically racist, if not overtly. I’ve actually had a cop, who thought I was a friend, say to me, “We don’t worry about the white kids.” Barry Bonds’ steriod use has warranted a $55 million congressional investigation. Even if this local LEO decides to pursue charges it will likely be a misdemeanor offense.