William Schwartz

Everyone has his own name for it-weed, pot, green, sticky icky, Mary Jane. Everyone has his own way of saying it-toking up, blowing trees, getting high. However, Johnny Law and the gray-hairs in lab coats strictly refer to marijuana as cannabis and deem it illegal throughout the United States of America. This American pastime of indulging in forbidden fruit has a history of successfully damaging the lives of countless Americans whether they’re young or old, male or female, first-timer or even that guy with the hideous multi-colored hemp hoodie. One athlete of notable celebrity status recently got a lesson in “Don’t party with people you don’t know” the hard way. At some point between his bouts of exorbitant binge-eating, swimming 6.2-mile workouts and embarrassing every swimmer in any event he attempted, 14-time gold medalist Michael Phelps forgot about the consequences of smoking weed.

The photo showing Phelps taking a bro-like bong hit-complete with a backwards hat and a Phelps-sponsored Omega watch-at the University of South Carolina has caused quite a stir around the world. All this pot-stirring (pun intended) has caused Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott to saddle up on a never-ending journey to prosecute Phelps. Is he serious? After Lott and his Bad Boys II-wannabe narcotics team finish media-whoring themselves out to the American public, Phelps’ legal-eagles will settle on the amphibious Olympian paying a $200 fine and logging some community service hours. Maybe the elite police officers of Richland County don’t know about Phelps’ life outside of swimming: all he does is community service. The Michael Phelps Foundation, started from his $1 million bonus from Speedo for tying Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals in an Olympic Game, is one of his many charitable organizations in which Phelps participates. In fact, Phelps was at USC to attend a football game and speak to a university class on the role of sports in society. Unfortunately, he happened to make a pit stop afterwards at a Cheech and Chong themed party.

Role models are extremely hard to find. If you find yourself looking to athletes for a role model, stop and turn to religion. Athletes are the worst representatives for wholesome, good-mannered values. Consider the following: Michael Vick, dog killer; Alex Rodriguez, home wrecker; Maurice Clarett, serving 3.5 years; Ron Artest, applied for a Circuit City job for the employee discount and Tom Brady-left pregnant girlfriend for supermodel. Michael Phelps shouldn’t be getting as bad a rap as he is receiving. Everyone is so quick to judge and view this as a negative event on Phelps’ part. Just like his DUI in 2004, he made a mistake and he should apologize and not make the same mistake again. But, we, as competent, coherent and informed Americans, should take a lesson from this.

In a 1990s Nike commercial, Charles Barkley said it best, “I am not a role model … Parents should be role models.” Well, Sir Charles had his facts straight because while he gets paid to wreak havoc on the court, he doesn’t, however, get paid to live his life off it. In practice and in competition, athletes are the perfect role models of hard work, discipline and determination. But when they take off their shoes, or hop out of the pool or walk off the field, they are the same young, mistake-prone kids as the rest of us. Phelps has given parents the opportunity to speak to their children about drugs and the effects they have on family and friends. However, you better be prepared because if little Timmy, who loves to swim, asks how a 23-year-old can make a mockery of the world’s best swimmers, own more gold than Wall Street CEOs and can still blow trees like Snoop Dogg, you’re in for quite the discussion.

Phelps’ recent actions illustrated a simple and basic human act: experimentation. Experimentation is how we find results and solutions-ask any scientist. Scientists perform hundreds of thousands of experiments in order to receive their final product. We, as human beings, are bound to experiment in many things because it is our human nature-we experiment to find who we truly are as a person. We are going to explore the world of drugs, romance, music and academics in order to find ourselves. Phelps’ childhood and upbringing of an insanely strenuous training regimen, life in a home with divorced parents and constant international coverage lead me to this simple fact: he is just experimenting with his life.

I don’t mean to sound na’ve or condone Phelps’ behavior or even advocate for a pardon on his behalf-that would require me condoning the other 42 percent of Americans who have tried marijuana in their lifetime. I simply want to inform people that while Phelps may be the sponsor and face of various companies and organizations, he is still a knucklehead kid who is conducting his own life experiments. For someone who spends the majority of his day in the water testing the limits of the human body, who successfully raced 17 times in nine days in the 2008 Olympics, who went undefeated in every finals race in Beijing, and who united the United States in a state of euphoria through gutsy acts of heroic athleticism, I say we give Phelps a break and worry about things that matter more. However, if you are going to have a role model, be sure to take a lesson from Wikipedia.com’s page layout and don’t read the section titled “Personal Life”-keep it to the “Career” and “Notable Accomplishments.”