Think of the children

| Comments (7) | Pharma Sports
What's there to say about the whole idiotic Michael Phelps flap? The guy's 23. He smoked dope. Or not. What did you expect? Who cares? But then I read something like this:
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.

7 Comments

I was watching a financial news show last night and the host announced that one of his sponsors was not renewing his deal and he blurted out that this guy must get into treatment now, get cleaned up, and maybe we will accept him as someone to look up to again.

The ignorance regarding this topic is high.

My response on this to date: http://www.theagitator.com/2009/02/01/a-letter-id-like-to-see-but-wont/

err that's supposed to be "My favorite response on this to date"

I think we have to step back a bit and look at the bigger picture. Why does USA Swimming exist in the first place, who gives it money, and why?

It's possible that its funders actually believe that it's a vital American interest to have the world's best swimmers be American, in which case they, and by extension Swimming USA, shouldn't care what Phelps is doing in his spare time. More likely, though, Swimming USA and its sponsors adhere to a kind of ideology which says that competitive sport is a path to a certain sort of virtue, that having world-class athletes in a country encourages participation in competitive sport in that country, and that therefore funding people like Michael Phelps leads to more young Americans with sound minds and sound bodies, etc. etc.

Now, I don't happen to embrace this ideology myself, but it seems to me that those who do are entitled to lavish their very generous sponsorship funds on athletes in a manner consistent with it (as long as it doesn't violate the law, use public funds in a highly unpopular manner, or otherwise provoke the wrath of the nation). And it seems to me that conversely, those who don't embrace this ideology oughtn't complain about this particular wrinkle in Swimming USA's policies as applied to Michael Phelps, unless they can explain why Swimming USA should be giving a dime to Michael Phelps, or anyone else, in the first place, just for swimming really fast.

Dan,

I certainly agree that Swimming USA can spend their money any way they want,
and you're right, I don't much care what they do. However, when they go around
making public pronouncements I consider stupid, I reserve the right to say so.
Surely that's at least 70% of the point of a blog, no?

I guess my comment was a longwinded way of asking, "if you think it's stupid for Swimming USA to be lavishing money on Phelps (only) as long as he's a symbol of 'sound mind/sound body' virtue, why is it any less stupid for them to lavish money on Phelps (only) as long as he's able to win swimming races?"

Dan,

Again, i think you're misunderstanding what I'm saying. It's not the
money that's at issue, it's the stupid public pronouncements. If
I had happened to read similar comments by someone who hadn't given
Phelps money I would have posted the same thing. Now, it's true
that the reason that USA Swimming and Kellogs are getting press
for their pronouncements is because money is involved, but that's
not *my* motivation. Get it?

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