Michael Phelps Drug Use Is a Shame—but Adults Defending His Pot Smoking Are Shameful

The swimmer is a role model, and columnist Sally Jenkins should know better.


By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I just stopped by the gym, where the photos of Olympic gold-medal swimmer Michael Phelps smoking pot were all over the wall of televisions. It was the talk of the treadmillers. Yesterday, I was at a gathering of mothers of middle- and high-school-age kids. It was the talk of the moms, too. "Can you believe that?" they all said, shaking their heads and talking about their teenage Phelps Phans. How could he have been so stupid?

Today's Washington Post has a column by Sally Jenkins—just below a news story on the front page of the sports section with this headline: "Clemens's DNA Is Linked to Syringes / Attorney says tests 'won't matter at all.' " That article details the scientific tests that link baseball great Roger Clemens's DNA to blood found in syringes his trainer says he used to inject drugs into Clemens. His lawyer was dismissive of the whole thing.

Anyway, Jenkins's column is equally dismissive of the Phelps photos. Full of snarky references to drug slang and wink-wink asides denying that she has ever smoked pot herself, Jenkins goes on to rationalize Phelps's drug use. Her excuses for him range from "He merely got caught doing what scores of people did every weekend in college" to "It's better than drinking and driving" and even "It's organic!" She points out that "fortunately" he won't face official sanctions because while the "draconian" World Anti-Doping Agency enforces bans on over-the-counter medications in season, it does nothing about "out-of-competition recreational drug use"—or illegal drug use, as the rest of us call it.

She belittles those who insist their sports heroes be "superhuman ideals" and says it's "absurd" to expect Phelps to be a role model. "All he did was behave in an unmeasured and uncalculated way and suffer the bad luck to be photographed doing it," she writes.

What planet is she on?

Does she not realize how many middle- and high-school kids look up to Michael Phelps? That he's on the front of Wheaties boxes right now? That we all warn our kids about the dangers of drug use? Most parents find that photo sad and disappointing and will use it as a Teachable Moment for teenagers. What Michael Phelps did was a shame, but adults' defending—and even encouraging—his drug use are far more shameful.

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