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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas Wiertella April 30, 2024

Slip-up doesn’t deserve negative press

If I had seen Olympic swimmer and gold medalist Michael Phelps taking hits from a bong at a college party in Marquette, I would have whipped out my camera phone to capture the action. The urge to document something like that is just too great, especially when it involves someone famous.

So when a picture of Phelps doing that exact thing appeared in a British tabloid earlier this week, I was neither shocked nor awed. But to my dismay, much of the media seemed to be shaking the proverbial finger at Phelps, and condemning the fact that it appeared he had used marijuana. All this, despite the fact that there are obviously much more important news stories, in the United States and abroad, that are more deserving of coverage.

By all means, Phelps is a very public figure who should have known better and he should have taken into account the fact that almost everyone has a camera phone at a college party. And of course, marijuana is illegal and he made a poor decision, but bad judgment is not a crime. Come on, no one can really be astounded that a 23-year-old smoked pot.

Lets face it, smoking marijuana is not the worst thing Phelps could have been caught doing. We should be grateful that one of America’s shining stars wasn’t photographed shooting heroin, dealing crack or soliciting a prostitute.

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Furthermore, Phelps isn’t the first well-known athlete to appear unsavory to the American public. What about the bad boy of Olympic skiing, Bode Miller? He admitted on 60 Minutes to skiing while “wasted.” Or what about Ray Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens linebacker who was indicted for murder and aggravated assault, then walked away with a year of probation? Miller still skis professionally and Lewis still plays for the NFL, and no one seems to pay much attention to their indiscretions.

Compared to the actions of Miller and Lewis, I don’t think taking a few hits from a bong at a party really measures up. So why is the media frenzy surrounding Phelps so huge? Celebrity athletes constantly pull foolish shenanigans that are much worse than smoking pot. All the controversy over Phelps seems unwarranted.

To be fair, this isn’t the first time Phelps has been in trouble with the law. He received 18 months probation for driving under the influence of alcohol four years ago. Not to mention, at that time he wasn’t even allowed to drink legally. I was more disappointed in him for driving drunk while underage than I was for him using pot at a friendly college get-together.

At the time, the media had a field day too, but then seemed to simply forget. By the time the 2008 Olympics had rolled around, he was their golden boy again.

Instead of focusing on the mistake of an athlete, maybe the American media should take a look at the increasingly desperate situations in other countries. Take for instance, Zimbabwe, where inflation is somewhere in the area of 89.7 sextillion percent. Try telling seven million starving Zimbabweans that a pot-smoking kid is much more deserving of media attention than the plight of their country is.

I’m not saying that all Northern students should go out and get ripped off of marijuana just because a famous athlete did, but I do think that the media shouldn’t come down so hard on Phelps. It just shows that, contrary to popular belief, he isn’t some goody-two-shoes super-human with super-capabilities. He is just a normal kid who made a poor choice, just like I’m sure all of us have.

I’ll forgive Michael Phelps for his momentary lapse of judgment. I’m hoping that all college students can learn to be just a little smarter. I’m also hoping that the media can learn a little bit more about what is legitimate news and leave the scandals to the tabloids.

But for now, lets let the law worry about it.

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