Sunday, February 8, 2009

The real problems in this country

So Michael Phelps, the fourteen-time gold-medal-winning Olympian swimmer, has just incurred a three-month suspension from competition from USA Swimming because there is a photograph somewhere of him holding a marijuana pipe.

Seriously.

Not only has he been suspended from competition, but he has also had his funding cut off, and the Kellogg corporation is not renewing their sponsorship contract with Phelps.  A statement from USA Swimming acknowledges that Phelps has not violated any of the World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines - whose tests Phelps has passed with flying colors, as a member of Project Believe, which tests in excess of existing standards - yet they still want to send "a strong message" to the swimmer because some people don't like pot.

I'm aware that this is all too typical of a reaction, but I'm still rather angered by it.  It's the same reason that I'm angered by any mothering law, by any conception of moral "substance," by any attempt to limit fun and freedom for everyone due to overconcern for safety.  As Bill Maher so succinctly put it, "Sometimes, fun costs ya."  Everyone knows that too much alcohol gives you cirrhosis and wrecks your body; everyone knows that too many cigarettes will give you lung cancer and wreck your body; and lots of people know that too much caffeine will also fuck you up.  It should therefore come as no surprise that tetrahydrocannabinol, like any other substance on the planet, is bad for you in excess.  Nobody wants to be a stoned slacker, I'm sure; but neither does anyone want to be an abusive alcoholic, or a lung cancer patient, or even dependent upon caffeine.  Phelps' decisions on what to do in his spare time to have fun are, quite frankly, his own decisions and nobody else's business.  The fact that he's a very public figure, if anything, should help to refute the stoned slacker stereotype - this guy managed to win fourteen gold medals, while possibly enjoying a toke every now and then?  Way to go!

But some progress is being made, I suppose.  Evan Morgenstein, an agent for a number of Olympic swimmers (and a rival agent of Phelps'), acts as our reasoned voice of "who gives a shit" in the public sphere.  "Enough is enough," he said, "The penalty is far greater than the crime. He has said he is sorry. Let's move on to the real problems in this country."

Amen to that.

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