WaPo Columnist Chides Parents, Corporations for Caring About Olympian's Pot-Smoking

February 3rd, 2009 8:40 AM

Tuesday’s Washington Post front page touts a sports column about "half-baked" Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps: "Sally Jenkins thinks folks should lighten up over the swimmer lighting up." Jenkins makes it clear that she has smoked her own garden of "weed," and laments that uptight corporate sponsors would object to the illegal use of narcotics:

I'm sure some people will be disappointed in Phelps for partaking of a non-government-approved substance for relaxation. But he merely got caught doing what scores of people -- I'm not saying me -- did every weekend in college, and what many residents of Austin still do every day, given the quite liberal sentencing laws, which I only know about secondhand. According to a study cited in U.S. News & World Report last summer, 42 percent of Americans have at one time or another gotten sweetly baked on hay. No one is condoning illegal activity -- or admitting any. But frankly, it's better than drinking and driving, which is what Phelps did last time. And it's organic!

To Jenkins, the picture of Phelps face-down in a bong only makes him more interesting, and if parents don’t like the concept of a pot-smoking role model, well, get over it:

There's clearly a more genuine and, um, adventurous Phelps than the one he presents. Like most great athletes, he's a creature of extremes, which is a quality egregiously unhealthy corporate sponsors such as Kellogg's and McDonald's don't really like to admit to in their athlete-pitchmen. But maybe it's one more parents should realize is part of the potential cost when their kid announces they want to be a gold medalist like Michael Phelps. Being a champion is frankly not the most healthful career to aspire to; it's an abnormally stressful one.

Why does indulging in drug use make someone more "genuine"? If Phelps didn’t want to be a role model for children, there’s an easy solution: don’t take the money from Kellogg’s or McDonald’s. You would think someone like Jenkins who doesn’t like corporate sponsors would urge Phelps to be a Naderite rebel and ignore the corporate commodification of his athletic victories.

Jenkins then jokes about how pot won’t get you punished by the anti-doping agency (stocked by Europeans?), but she doesn’t really disagree with that. She disagrees with anyone disapproving of marijuana smoking:

Fortunately, Phelps won't face official sanctions. If you want to feel stoned, consider the fact that the draconian World Anti-Doping Agency doesn't penalize out-of-competition recreational drug use, but gives years-long bans for accidental ingestion of over-the-counter meds in season. He shouldn't face the loss of endorsements, either. All he did was behave in an unmeasured and uncalculated way and suffer the bad luck to be photographed doing it. He's already enjoying a fitting punishment: public embarrassment for failing to live up to his commercial pretensions.

But Jenkins seems to be arguing in a circle: Phelps has nothing to be embarrassed about, so leave him alone because he’s been embarrassed?

Perhaps they should drop a letter and call the newspaper The Washington Pot.