Editor’s Note: By a lucky coincidence, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps’ problems with the tabloid newspaper that caught him playing around with a bong (and, presumably, smoking pot) were overshadowed by the breaking sports news that New York Yankee superstar Alex Rodriguez had been cheating at his sport for years by taking performance-enhancing drugs, while self-righteously lying about it. (He actually continued lying even during his confession, so he clearly has no shame at all.) In contrast, Phelps’ activity was a “victimless crime,” hence, no crime at all. In a nation full of baby boomers who’ve smoked enough herb during the past 40 years to fill the Grand Canyon, the shocked dismay expressed by many in the media that Phelps might have also smoked some pot just seems silly and hypocritical. It’s nobody’s business what he does in his spare time, as long as he’s not hurting anyone or cheating at his sport.
American men learn early to apologize, whether we think we’ve done anything wrong or not. Any husband married longer than 10 days knows he’s required to do this often, even if he has no clue why.
Women demand contrition, even after we’ve denied any wrongdoing, made it clear we aren’t sorry and guaranteed that the apology they’re about to receive is completely insincere. It’s all part of that feminine mystique we men find so irresistible.
Recently, like the good family man he is, President Obama took the blame for the botched Tom Daschle appointment. The president himself had done nothing wrong: His staff did a poor job vetting the ex-senator, and, as a tax cheat, Daschle himself should have apologized for allowing his name to be advanced. And, facing an economy ravaged by conservative fiscal policies and two dangerous wars, Mr. Obama presumably has more important things on his mind than Tom Daschle’s limousine arrangements.
Regardless, the president’s mea culpa was well-received, even among some Republicans. Maybe it’s the contrast with the previous presidential/vice presidential junta, which never acknowledged any mistakes and is now misrepresenting its legacy as something other than a national disaster.
Meanwhile, for the relatively trivial indiscretion of being photographed with a bong attached to his face, swimmer Michael Phelps has been apologizing continually, although, like Mr. Obama, he has nothing to be contrite about. Maybe he’s sincerely embarrassed, or perhaps he’s just protecting his future income streams. (Subway and Kellogg pulled his endorsement deals before the smoke had even cleared — marijuana is clearly harmful to one’s health as a salesman.)
Former pro basketball star Charles Barkley famously and accurately observed, “I’m no role model,” adding that parents and teachers should be setting good examples for young people, not athletes. Sometimes, even a jock gets it right.
To whom and for what is Phelps apologizing? By publicly becoming associated with marijuana, he stumbled over a concept that’s both moronic and oxymoronic — the “victimless crime.” If no one is harmed, then where’s the crime? And absent a victim, to whom does one owe an apology?
In earlier times, victimless crimes were known as “sins.” To control activities people enjoy — like dancing and sex — primitive puritans classified them as affronts to God, even though none of us has a clue what, if anything, the Almighty finds offensive. These days, the sin list is growing mercifully shorter.
If Phelps had been photographed with a bottle of Budweiser attached to his lips, there’d be no scandal, even though alcohol has destroyed millions more lives than marijuana. Fatty cheeseburgers are more dangerous to the nation’s health than pot, yet there’d be no outrage if Phelps had been caught up to his ears in a Big Mac. Without the purveyors of junk food and the beer companies, who’d sponsor our sporting events? And who’d pay our role-model athletes for product endorsements?
About 80 million of us baby boomers cavorted through the 60s and now hypocritically pretend we never smoked pot ourselves or didn’t inhale or didn’t enjoy it or now regret it terribly, as if that bong stored in the attic were some sort of medieval torture instrument. It wasn’t as if Phelps electrocuted dogs (see Michael Vick), obstructed justice in a murder investigation (see Ray Lewis) or had his pregnant girlfriend murdered (see Ray Carruth).
Nor did he cheat his sport with steroids and hormones, like Alex Rodriguez, Jose Canseco or pretty much every other major league ballplayer who batted more than .250 during the past 20 years. Instead, Phelps spent years doing the most tiresome thing imaginable — swimming endless laps, breathing chlorine-infused air that probably did more damage to his lungs than the marijuana he may or may not have inhaled. And if he had smoked pot while training, that just makes his Olympian achievements all the more Homeric.
Phelps brought home more gold medals than anyone in Olympic history. That should entitle him to spend the rest of his life drinking $500 bottles of single-malt Scotch, smoking Hawaiian cannabis and Cuban cigars (both needlessly illegal), and dating supermodels two and three at a time, if that’s what makes him happy. And he shouldn’t have to apologize to anyone for any of it.
I have no idea whether Phelps is genuinely sorry for his victimless crime, or merely kicking himself for jeopardizing his endorsements by getting caught, like a husband feigning remorse for sins he’s clueless about. Either way, the American public should get over it, and be mature enough to realize that Michael Phelps is moral enough to sell Sugar Frosted Flakes to our nation’s youth.
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