Though I know a few people in the industry, I find "sports journalism" to be one of the most specious professions out there. I mean, come on, everybody who's a fan of any given sport already knows the rules. You really don't have to explain anything that's going on. Yet, we have these commentators, "journalists," and pundits covering sports 24/7--as though anything so drastic happens in sports that it deserves its own news cycle. Because of the fundamental lacking in the field, sports journalists find themselves drumming up controversies and scandals every chance they get.
Once these folks tap you, an athlete can find themselves engulfed in a maelstrom of outrage and disgust so violent you'd think they lied about weapons of mass destruction, or something. A blown call can be overscrutinized like the Zapruder film. And you'd think Osama bin Laden wreaked less havoc on New York than Plaxico Burress. As Shakespeare said, it's all "sound and fury, signifying nothing."
That's the way I felt about Michael Phelps's latest run-in with controversy. I mean, sure it was irresponsible for him to take a few puffs of the magic dragon, but that's what youth's all about. I mean, how can folks get so upset about marijuana when damned near half the country has either smoked it or are about to smoke it as soon as they get a break? Besides, even in sports, there are much more grievous crimes. As Jeff Benedict pointed out in his book, Out of Bounds: Inside the NBA's Culture of Rape, Violence, and Crime, 40 percent of NBA players during the 2001-02 season had been "arrested or otherwise recommended by police to prosecuting attorneys for indictment for a serious crime" and the majority of their victims were women. He, along with Don Yaeger, also discovered in another piece that 21 percent of NFL players had been charged with serious crimes. Pacman Jones excepted, these very serious problems within sports are hardly ever given serious scrutiny or mock-outrage in the sportocracy, so why go apoplectic over a kid kickin' it with Chong?
But damn, if this thing hasn't gone up in smoke for our young hero. USA Swimming has suspended Phelps for three months, saying, "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." And then, sanctimoniously adding, "Michael has voluntarily accepted this reprimand and has committed to earn back our trust." Right after that, Kellogg dropped him like a hot potato. South Carolina authorities are contemplating throwing him behind bars. And now the boy is morosely contemplating his future in sports.
Out of this whole mess, only the Kellogg move makes any sense. They are a "family company," after all. They can't Phelps hawking their Weedies. The rest is just bluster and canned moral outrage that will blow over soon enough. Unless Phelps pulls a Tyson and loses his gotdamned mind, he'll be back swimming and endorsing in no time and all the sports journalists and commentators will tearfully commend, in well-rehearsed earnestness, young Michael for how he "turned his life around," "took all the criticism to heart," and really "turned his life around." By that time, there will be other scandals piquing their ire, and we'll have all forgot about it. Right now, it's just Phelps's turn.
Here, Huffington Post put up a good list to show you that Phelps, by no means, rolls alone.
Modi over at Sports on My Mind has written an absolutely excellent piece on how he feels that Phelps should be arrested on drug charges to show the glaring hypocrisy and disparity in how blacks and Latinos (athletes and regular folk) are treated as compared to whites when it comes to drugs and the authorities.