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On Sunday, February 1, 2009, Michael Phelps admitted to “regrettable” behavior concerning the release of photos that showed the Olympian apparently smoking marijuana. These photos were released by the British tabloid News of the World and came from a cellphone video that was allegedly taken at a November 2008 party at the University of South Carolina.
“I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment,” the record-breaking athlete said in a statement issued last week. This comes nearly four years after Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence in Salisbury, Maryland. In that instance, Phelps pleaded guilty and received eighteen months probation.
Phelps has been banned for three months by USA Swimming; the federation stated, “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.” Furthermore, cereal and snack-maker Kellogg Co. reported it will not renew its contract with Phelps following the release of the photos.
Sheriff Leon Lott of Richland County, South Carolina maintains that charges will be filed against the Olympic swimmer if the Sheriff’s Office’s investigation reveals any illegal activity. Possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor in South Carolina, punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a $570 fine, plus court costs. Lott said in a statement, “If someone breaks the law in Richland County, we have an obligation as law enforcement to investigate and to bring charges.” Given the video and partial confession, it is likely that South Carolina could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the substance was actually marijuana. According to Lott, “This one might be a lot easier since we have photographs of someone using drugs and a partial confession. It’s a relatively easy case once we can determine where the crime occurred.” However, since Phelps has actually admitted to the behavior it is likely he would plead guilty if charged. It seems as though the Richland County Sheriff’s Department is making an effort to treat Phelps in the same manner as anyone else, but the truth is, he is not just anyone else . . . he is a national hero.
This setback could affect his plans to compete in the London Olympics in 2012. Has the Olympian perhaps already been punished enough by the negative publicity? Are criminal charges necessary, and if criminal charges were not brought, would it seriously undermine the whole legal system? Doubtful.
Ironically enough, the gold winner is one of twelve Olympic athletes that have pledged to “My Victory,” an initiative launched in 2008 by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to keep athletes clean of illegal drug use.
– Jenny Worthy
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