LEAVE MICHAEL ALONE!: An Open Letter to Michael Phelps

Hey there, Michael.

Y'know, I respect you for what you've done. Sure, there were the 14 career gold medals -- very impressive -- but more than that, you did something very few public figures do: you admitted to smoking pot.

People might say there was photographic evidence, and you had no choice, but we both know better, don't we, Michael? If you wanted to, you could have denied, you could have just let the tempest die down, or you could have let the public deny it for you. Many people were already saying that "It doesn't even look like him," and you could have let them keep saying that. Because, jeez, how could someone as phenomenally successful as you smoke pot? The winningest Olympic athlete of all time? Inconceivable!

But you didn't deny or obfuscate or cover up, you admitted it.

And I was so proud, but then came this:

"I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment," the record-setting American athlete said in a statement issued Sunday.

"I'm 23 years old, and despite the successes I have had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner that people have come to expect from me," Phelps said. "For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public -- it will not happen again."

And this hilarious line:

People often use bongs to smoke marijuana.

Thanks, CNN. Keep that hard-hittin' journalism coming.

Oh Michael, Michael, Michael. I thought we had something special going for a bit, but you disappointed me.

Here's a thought experiment: since marijuana has been proven empirically to be far less harmful than alcohol in every measurable way, what if your story went a bit differently?

Olympic great Michael Phelps acknowledged "regrettable" behavior and "bad judgment" after a photo in a British newspaper Sunday showed him drinking a beer.

While the newspaper did not specifically allege that Phelps was drinking beer, it did say the keg is generally used for that purpose and anonymously quoted a partygoer who said the Olympic champion was "out of control from the moment he got there."

"He grabbed the keg and a plastic cup and knew exactly what to do," a witness said of the swimming superstar, according to the News of the World report.

"He looked just as natural with a beer in his hands as he does swimming in the pool. He was the gold medal winner of drinking beer."

Little absurd now, isn't it?

Michael, you are just one of a long, long list of successful people who have smoked marijuana. In fact, our past four presidents (at the very least) have smoked it.

I know why you apologized (in fact, I think everyone knows): that sweet, sweet endorsement money. We're talking millions upon millions of dollars here, so it's not surprising that you tried to quell the fire before it burned down the forest of cash.

I can hardly blame you. That's a lot of money. Enough money to be able to take care of you, your family, and whatever future kids you have for at least a few generations.

I'm still disappointed, though. You could have done something for the movement to decriminalize or legalize marijuana. Or perhaps you already have.

The media is talking about it once again, and hooray for that! My distributor's press guy has been trying for months to get someone, anyone, to respond to my requests for interviews, stories, or something to do with my documentary. Hell, I'm like the perfect person to be talking to right now. But everyone we spoke with has turned us down, often dismissively.

Even Jon Stewart, the normally open-minded stalwart defender of human rights and NAMBLA-jokes, responded that he "has no interest in the marijuana issue."

What is "the marijuana issue"? He didn't say, and we couldn't find out, but the MSM is so dismissive of anything criticizing the drug war that we are left with nothing but trying desperately to support our viewpoints on blogs and through viral media. Instead of having anyone on who's insightful about such an underutilized topic, what do we get? A guy that collected hundreds of boxes of Mac 'N' Cheese.

Michael, did you know that over 800,000 people per year are arrested on marijuana possession charges alone, and that fully half the budget of the war on drugs is dedicated to marijuana? And did you know about the thousands of legitimate medical patients who have had the one thing that brings some relief to their constant pain taken away, thanks to DEA raids?

After all the time and energy spent on the few hundred detainees in Gitmo in the MSM (and on The Daily Show), why don't you seem to care about the 253,300 state prison inmates who are serving time for drug offenses? Does it matter that 44.8% were African-American and 20.2% were Hispanic?

How about all the cops that raid houses unnecessarily, resulting in death and destruction, instead of taking the path of least resistance like arresting people when they go to work, or when they leave the house? A subject that Radley Balko has covered extensively. How about how they always kill the dogs?

To all those in the MSM: Yes, the abuses in the name of the war on terror matter, they matter a great deal, but many more abuses are carried out, with even less journalistic oversight, by police and federal agents, all to fight a never-ending battle that has no winners, only losers.

Look, if you think the war on drugs should continue on, that marijuana should stay illegal, and that all those hundreds of thousands deserve arrest for smoking a plant, then that's your opinion, and you have every right to it.

But please don't dismiss it as "the marijuana issue," like it's something stupid or tawdry. Almost half of America has at least tried it, and this affects the lives of millions of people, including their college tuition, their future employment, and their freedom. This is a serious subject, and one I have given almost six years of my life to pursuing; so much so that I made a film to help others learn about it.

And to Michael: I'm sorry you chose to go the route of public apology, instead of what you should have said:

I'm one of the most successful people on the planet, and I smoke pot. That's all.

Oh well, maybe next time.

John Holowach
Documentary Filmmaker
09 Feb 2009 by John