News outlets across the world are reporting about Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps' feat of breaking the record for the most medals ever won by an Olympian. On Thursday night he won his record twentieth career Olympic medal. But the road to being the world's greatest swimmer did not come easy.
In February of 2009, 23-year-old Michael Phelps apologized for his youthful indiscretion when he was caught on camera at a party smoking a bong that allegedly contained marijuana. The party took place three months after the Olympics while he was taking a break from training after he had won 8 gold medals. It is not clear how often Phelps indulged in the consumption of marijuana. But common sense tells me it was not the first time. At that time the Associated Press reported that Phelps said:
I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment. I'm 23 years old and despite the successes I've had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again.
It seems that his apology was accepted by most Americans and majority of his corporate sponsors stood by him. The damage to his career was minimal when he was slapped with a three-month suspension from USA Swimming and his face was removed from the Kellogg's cereal box. But Phelps made a point then that reached well-beyond a box of Corn Flakes when he revealed to the world that smoking marijuana did not affect his ability to excel. Millions of Americans are recreational drug users who use drugs responsibly and lead normal lives. Phelps could be a testament to this, even though he might not admit it in fear of the repercussions that come along with telling the truth. Because of the war on drugs and its zero-tolerance policy, the truth sometimes becomes buried because of the stigma that is attached to being an drug user.
There might be a question in defining if Phelps can be considered a recreational user if he only used during extended breaks from his training. We have no way of knowing his drug use beyond the one incident mentioned above, but for the sake of argument, if Phelps could be considered a recreational user, he would be a high-profile example of people who engage in recreational drug use and suffer no adverse effects -- other than exposing themselves to criminal penalties due to drug prohibition. It may be true that some people struggle with drug addiction and sadly for the most part they are treated like criminals instead of being treated like people with medical problems.
Another example of recreational drug use gone wrong occurred in 2009 when Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum was cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession of three grams in Washington State when he was stopped by a cop while driving and caught with marijuana and a pipe. Luckily, he was not suspended and following that season, Lincecum was named Sporting News National League Pitcher of the Year for the second-consecutive year.
Recreational drug users, and people wrestling with addiction everywhere, are routinely demonized by the moral majority who refuse to recognize that the criminal sanctions for using illegal drugs is in itself totally immoral.
Michael Phelps is an American hero who proved to the world that people who smoke or have smoked marijuana can be functional and successful in their lives. Maybe the record 20 medals he has won will lead the way to a change in the way people think about recreational drug use.