Cut Phelps, Rodriguez slack about drug issues

By Rich Mayor

At least Michael Phelps and Alex Rodriguez have each other.

After the Golden Boy’s bong-hitting scandal last week tipped the American sports scene, A-Rod stepped in this weekend and completely flipped it to a level I’ve never seen.

Here they are, two of the greatest athletes in the history of our country: One’s career shrouded in a puff of smoke; the other’s injected with a dose increasing the strength of his detractors.

And yet, as strange and immoral as it may seem, I’m taking both of their sides.

I watched every one of Phelps’ races at the Olympics this past summer in his quest for eight gold medals. The races he won by a mile were memorable. The races he won because someone, either himself or his teammate Jason Lezak, didn’t cut his fingernails the night before were unforgettable. The guy is an American hero, plain and simple. He is the kid who went to Beijing and came back as royalty.

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King Midas, if you will.

But Midas took a big hit (literally) last week when pictures of him smoking pot at a party surfaced in News of the World, a British publication. Phelps was shown lighting a bong and inhaling deeply at the University of South Carolina on Nov. 6, according to News of the World.

From that article: “Our source said: ‘You could tell Michael had smoked before. He grabbed the bong and a lighter and knew exactly what to do … He looked just as natural with a bong in his hands as he does swimming in the pool. He was the gold medal winner of bong hits.'”

Gold medal winner of bong hits? That might be the lamest thing I’ve ever heard. How about something like, “He saw water in there, maybe he thought it was a snorkel?” Or how upset the “supplier” was when Phelps and his world-class lungs wiped out the supply.

So believe the details of the story if you want.

The uproar from this incident resulted in sportswriters and columnists across the country bashing Phelps for smoking weed. He is a role model to millions of kids, and he can’t be doing things like that. This is true. But something else is true: Sportswriters across the country are old farts.

My personal opinion is that Phelps probably shouldn’t have been smoking pot that night. He is a role model to millions and a symbol of our country, but come on, the guy is 23. Let him live. He won EIGHT gold medals for us – I think we can forgive him for making one stupid mistake. And I believe his worst mistake was not that he was smoking pot, but that he did it at a fraternity party. It’s a terribly dumb decision, in this camera-phone age, but not unforgivable. If he doesn’t race in 2012, an option he said he’ll consider, then that’s a travesty.

Which brings me to A-Rod.

The guy is, or was, the best baseball had to offer for the past 13 years. Assuming he wins a World Series, and I truly believe he will, he might be viewed as the best baseball has ever had to offer. The alarmingly high level at which he has consistently played since his first full major league season at age 20 has defied logic. He was my generation’s Willie Mays, our Henry Aaron, our Babe Ruth. He was the hero, the one shining light that couldn’t be corrupted by the Steroids Era that has swallowed so many.

But no longer.

It’s now a subject of national debate whether the Yankee third baseman will even reach the Hall of Fame, much less regain the public’s respect. Rodriguez plans on playing out the remaining nine years of his 10-year/$275 million contract, and as he put it in his interview with ESPN’s Peter Gammons, “I think there’s a great sample there for someone who has a Hall of Fame vote to say, ‘OK, I have 20 years of clean baseball, and then make up their mind.'”

I believe Rodriguez understands the significance of what he’s done. A few days after Sports Illustrated’s steroid allegations, he made it a point to go on national television to confess and apologize. I find that to be honorable. He went out of his way to degrade himself and take responsibility while explaining that it was “part of the culture.” As much as that doesn’t seem like an excuse, it’s honest. It’s the truth. Call me naive, as Rodriguez called himself many times, but I believe him.

Have you seen other legends of our time ponying up and taking responsibility for their pasts? Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds? No way. This is a new era, one that should recognize the dishonesty of its ‘roid-assisted heroes of the past and respect those who come forward and ask for forgiveness. This is the only way the sport will truly recover.

But if nobody forgives Phelps or Rodriguez, well hey, at least they have each other. And their drugs.

Rich Mayor is a junior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]