A photo of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps smoking marijuana has produced a relatively subdued public reaction, and some addiction experts consider this lack of concern disturbing, the Baltimore Sun reported Feb. 3.
The photo showed Phelps apparently smoking marijuana from a bong at a college party.
Phelps’ admission that he used ’bad judgment’ seemed to have satisfied his sponsors, and public outcry was generally muted. Some younger fans said that they were dismayed that Phelps even had to apologize for his behavior.
Some addiction experts, however, expressed frustration with the reaction. “For probably the most accomplished athlete in the history of the Olympics to be doing that, I found it very disheartening,” said Gary Wadler, a professor of medicine at New York University and an adviser to the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Mike Gimbel, a Baltimore County substance-abuse expert, said the public was too quick to absolve Phelps of personal responsibility. “To make it that it’s an issue about pot is the wrong approach, I think,” Gimbel said. “It’s an issue of Michael’s judgment and decision-making.”
The public acceptance of marijuana use by one of the most gifted and successful athletes in Olympic and professional sports history could signify a sea change in attitudes about marijuana, said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing consultant.
“There are so many worse things you can do in public, things that affect other people,” Dorfman continued. “I think his DUI was much worse.” In 2004, Phelps was cited for driving under the influence just months after competing in the Olympics.
The Phelps incident “highlights the fact that incredibly successful people, whether athletically or intellectually, are cannabis consumers,” said Allen St. Pierre, director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “Had this happened 10 years ago, Mr. Phelps would have been in trouble with his commercial interests. Today, it’s almost a badge of honor among people 25 years old or younger.”