Hold off before criticizing Phelps

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ columnist

Michael Phelps, who inspired me to finally learn to swim, is apparently human.

In the shadow of the Super Bowl, a photo surfaced, showing Phelps smoking marijuana from a bong at a November 2008 party.

Call my editors. I need an extra 300 words. I can’t fit all the punchlines:

• Marijuana’s not a performance enhancer. Phelps deserves 30 gold medals if he was smoking weed before the relays.

• Check the tape. Maybe teammates had a bag of Doritos at the end of the pool.

• I’m not even touching his iPod’s proclivity for rap music.

Yes, I’m being glib. But glib’s the consensus.

I was halfway listening to ESPN Radio on Monday, and host Doug Gottlieb felt the guy who leaked the photo wasn’t in the right. Was Gottlieb trying to tell us if somebody gave him an exclusive photo of a 14-time Olympic medalist doing something illegal, he’d ignore it? More likely, 30 seconds later, ESPN’s Bottom Line scroller reads, “ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb reports …”

Gottlieb’s far from alone. A friend of mine who’s worked in media said on his Facebook account “the guy who took the picture … should be kicked off the bus.”

No punishment for the guy doing the illegal acts, of course. Back in 2004, Phelps was pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence. Perhaps the Maryland cop who stopped Phelps should be kicked off the force.

Apples to oranges, you say? Phelps pleaded guilty to driving while impaired in 2004 — a misdemeanor in Maryland. Had some cop busted that party, Phelps is possibly arrested for possession of marijuana — a misdemeanor in most cases.

After Phelps’ 2004 arrest, he quickly issued a statement: “I’m 19, but no matter how old you are, you should take responsibility for your actions, which I will do. I’m extremely sorry for the mistake that I made.”

After the Phelps bong photo surfaced, he quickly issued a statement: “I’m 23 years old, and despite the successes I have had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner that people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry.”

You know what’s crazy? Phelps is the only one doing the right thing with these doppelganger apologies. We’re the ones who see things differently, and it’s one of the short-sighted ways we protect ourselves as Americans.

Parents get furious when a magazine publishes a revealing Miley Cyrus picture, but don’t have a clue their 16-year-old daughter’s got a MySpace photo album of her getting drunk with her other 16-year-old friends. We call one misdemeanor action unbecoming of any adult, but call another misdemeanor action harmless fun from a rambunctious kid — except that kid is four years older now.

I guess I just see things as black and white, and I think we need to decide. Either:

• Marijuana is more harmful than the alcohol and erectile dysfunction pills that get marketed every Super Bowl, using it is a criminal act and it’s not funny when somebody gets caught, or …

• Marijuana’s a drug with side effects, but it’s legal and reasonable adults can be trusted to determine proper use.

Until we can decide that, we should hold off on any judgment we pass on Phelps, and people who get arrested that don’t have Olympic medals.

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Freedom New Mexico. He can be contacted at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by e-mail: kevin_wilson@link.freedom.com