Drugs and Sports: A Recipe for Success?

The juxtaposition of these two stories at YahooNews this morning is a tad odd:   Michael Phelps acknowledges photo using marijuana pipe and Santonio Holmes goes from drug dealer to Super Bowl MVP.

Are we to conclude that illicit drugs are the route to athletic achievement?

UPDATE: Radley Balko pens a “Letter From Michael Phelps” arguing that great athletes deserve to get high after all they’ve sacrificed for us.

UPDATE II: In the comments, Radley explains that he’s merely saying Phelps should be “left the hell alone.”  I’d agree, except that Phelps is engaged in illegal conduct.  Granted, conduct that shouldn’t be illegal, but still.

Commenter JimT counters that this is “exactly the same” as Babe Ruth “holding a beer can in 1922.”

Update (Steve Verdon): Just thought I’d chime here because unlike the other OTB writers I have a son who swims competively. Our whole family watched with excitement as the men’s 400×100 relay team beat the French team making it possible for Michael Phelps to go on to earn a record breaking 8 gold medals. I’m sure if one were to ask him who he looks up to in swimming that Michael Phelps would be in the top three if not number one. Do I find the idea of Michael Phelps smoking marijuana a big deal? No. For one thing I don’t think anyone, let alone my son, is going to do what Michael Phelps does with mindless devotion. Another, is that people often make mistakes or do things that are not very smart. And last, the important aspects of Michael Phelps has accomplished are through dedication, hard work, and hard work. If anyone wants to come even close to accomplishing what Phelps has accomplished, those are the things they will need to emulate. Emulating him on the pot smoking alone will get you nowhere in swimming. Still if my son tries to get cute with me on this, I’ll be sure to use this stand by argument, “Look, when you win 8 gold medals at the Olympics, 7 of them in world record time, then you can smoke pot. Until then and so long as you live in my house you wont.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Triumph says:

    Are we to conclude that illicit drugs are the route to athletic achievement?

    How long has Phelps been a stoner? Perhaps he started to party AFTER he got the gold?!?

  2. Radley Balko says:

    That’s not exactly what I argued.

    The “sacrifice” part was more about the hypocrisy of trashing athletes who smoke pot because pot is bad for you. We don’t care about athletes’ health. If we did, we wouldn’t patronize half the sports we do.

    Michael Phelps doesn’t “deserve” to get high, any more than our last three former pot-smoking presidents do. He does deserve to be left the hell alone, and he deserves to have a private life.

  3. jimT says:

    Imagine the shock and horror if a picture was found of Babe Ruth holding a beer can in 1922.
    This is exactly the same….

  4. Brian says:

    I’m suddenly reminded of an image of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger smoking a joint after his Mr. Olympia win in South Africa 1975 as documented in “Pumping Iron.”

    This is the best of both worlds. A politician AND an athlete smoking pot.

  5. RWW says:

    I’d agree, except that Phelps is engaged in illegal conduct. Granted, conduct that shouldn’t be illegal, but still.

    Still what? Is it wrong because it’s illegal?

  6. Grewgills says:

    It is ridiculous that it is illegal and that so many seem to be getting their panties in a twist about it.
    It may explain his diet though.

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    It may explain his diet though.

    Heh, maybe, but I doubt it. I’ve seen many kids who swim. From ages 5 on up, and one thing seems to be the case, they all eat staggering amounts of food. I somehow doubt they are all pot smokers.