U.S. swimming officials Thursday suspended Olympic hero Michael Phelps from competition for three months, the latest fallout from a photo that caught him puffing on a bong at a party.
USA Swimming, the sport's national governing body, also cut off its financial support to Phelps for the same three-month period, effective Thursday.
"This is not a situation where any anti-doping rule was violated, but we decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming member kids who look up to him as a role model and a hero," the federation said in a statement. "Michael has voluntarily accepted this reprimand and has committed to earn back our trust."
So, I've never been a USA Swimming kid, but I remember competing in high school sports and I don't think that I would have been disappointed to discover that some athlete I respected (for their physical skills, remember!) had smoked marijuana. It wasn't like my teammates weren't getting drunk at parties. This whole meme that kids need to be protected from the very notion that professional athletes aren't perfect has a pretty strong odor of "I'm shocked, shocked, to find that gambling is going on in this casino." Can people really have this little memory of what it was like to be kids themselves?
It's important to remember that from the perspective of the sport, smoking marijuana is really qualitively different from using steroids. Marijuana doesn't confer any kind of performance advantage so it doesn't undermine the sport [I'm not taking a position on whether steroids should be allowed or not. However, as long as they're banned, using them is cheating. Fair competition depends on rules, no matter how arbitrary.] The grounds for punishing athletes for using marijuana are (1) it's illegal so it "contravenes the spirit of the sport" and (2) it's bad for you. You might or might not think those are legitimate grounds for WADA to be doing anything, but certainly they're a lot less legitimate than those for regulating steroids or EPO. There's no real connection to the sport; WADA is just punishing athletes for behaviors they disapprove of.
One more observation: the selection of marijuana is fairly arbitrary. Remember that alcohol is illegal in some jurisdictions, but it's not a prohibited substance for athletes to use outside of competition.