What Two Super-Jocks Can Tell Us About the Disastrous War on Pot

For better or worse, our American Idiocracy has come to rely on athletes as national pedagogues. Michael Jordan educated the country about commitment and just doing it. A.C. Green lectured us about sexual caution. Serena Williams and John McEnroe taught us what sportsmanship is — and is not. And Charles Barkley outlined how society should define role models.

So when a single week like this one sees both the Justice Department back states’ medical marijuana laws, and a Gallup poll show record-level support for pot legalization, we can look to two superjocks — Lance Armstrong and Michael Phelps — for the key lesson about our absurd drug policy.

This Tale of Two Supermen began in February when Phelps, the gold-medal swimmer, was plastered all over national newspapers in a photo that showed him hitting a marijuana bong. Though he was smoking in private, the image ignited a public firestorm. USA Swimming suspended Phelps, Kellogg pulled its endorsement deal and the Associated Press sensationalized the incident as a national decision about whether heroes should “be perfect or flawed.”

The alleged imperfection was Phelps’ decision to quietly consume a substance that “poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol,” as a redacted World Health Organization report admits. That’s a finding confirmed by almost every objective science-based analysis, including a landmark University of California study in 2006 showing “no association at all” between marijuana use and cancer.

Alcohol, by contrast, causes roughly 1 in 30 of the world’s cancer cases, according to the International Journal of Cancer. And a new report by Cancer Epidemiology journal shows that even beer, seemingly the least potent drink, may increase the odds of developing tumors.

Which brings us to Armstrong. This month, the Tour de France champion who beat cancer inked a contract to hawk Anheuser-Busch’s alcohol. That’s right, less than a year after Phelps was crucified for merely smoking weed in private, few noticed or protested the planet’s most famous cancer survivor becoming the public face of a possible carcinogen.

“Apparently, it’s perfectly acceptable for a world-class athlete to endorse a substance like alcohol that contributes to thousands of deaths each year, as well as hundreds of thousands of violent crimes and injuries,” says Mason Tvert, a co-author of the new book “Marijuana Is Safer.” “Yet a world-class athlete like Michael Phelps is ridiculed, punished and forced to apologize for marijuana, the use of which contributes to zero deaths, and has never been linked to violent or reckless behavior. Why the double standard?”

The data prove the answer isn’t about health, and our culture proves it isn’t about widespread allegiance to “Just Say No” abstinence. After all, whether through liquor commercials, wine magazines, beer-named stadiums or cocktail-drenched office parties, our society is constantly encouraging us to get our liquid high.

No, the double standard is about know-nothing statutes and attitudes promoting the recreational use of alcohol and banning the similar use of marijuana — all thanks to retrograde mythologies of post-Sixties Americana. In our now-dominant backlash folklore, the patriots are the straight-laced Joe and Jane Sixpacks — and the Armstrongs who encourage their drinking. Meanwhile, the supposed evildoers are the pot-smoking Cheeches, Chongs and Phelpses, whose marijuana use allegedly underscores a dangerous hippie-ness.

Ergo, the moral of this Tale of Two Supermen: To end contradictions in narcotics policy and permit safer recreational drug choices, we have to first reject the outdated Silent-Majority-versus-Counterculture iconography that defines so much of our politics. We must, in other words, replace caricatures with scientific facts and mature into something more than an Idiocracy.

We should all be able to imbibe — or inhale — to that.

– Article from Creators Syndicate via Alternet on October 23, 2009.



  1. ToxicSludge on

    Being an old fart,I have seen,and been the recipient of the good ol’ double standard weed vs. booze.Briefly:while it was accepted practice to drink every night till one puked,need O2 in the morning at briefing to try to sober up,then fly combat missions in Vietnam,that was considered ok behavior.Me,on the other hand would smoke a joint or two after a days missions to unwind.No hangover,no puking in the aircraft,and no stinky body odor either………BUT…..I was the bad guy who smoked evil weed,made each and every combat mission,never went on sick call,I was a bum,not given earned promotions etc.That is just one of many experiences I’ve gone thru in my life in regards to smoking weed.And all thru it?I just said “fuck em” and let my freak flag fly,too this very day.I can only imagine the pressures on the sports heros who have chosen to succumb to the pressures.I feel bad for them having to hide something as minor as weed.Shame on the people who just don’t get it.I fuckin’ hate booze for all the damage it does.

  2. Anonymous on

    I’ve introduced pot to a few people in my life and to be honest the experience scared most of them. Alcohol seems to inflate the ego whereas pot seems to question it. This is an ego centric culture we are in where Me Me Me is rewarded and promoted. Pot throws that out of whack. So yah the dominant culture wants to keep it down. We pot users talk funny! All this questioning and thinking… sheesh! Just drink and be an ass like everyone else, much easier.

  3. Anonymous on

    This article isn’t condemning Armstrong for his choices in who to endorse but asks the question why alcohol over marijuana.

  4. NotSure on

    come on

    lance armstrong is trying to make a living, in america theres no limit on how much money you can earn. how many millionaire cyclists are there? its not the most profitable business in the world and hes just doing the best he can to make it into one. its not his fault beer kills you, and its not his fault people are dumb enough to drink it.

    and if a beer company happens to be offering him the most money to sell out, who can blame him for taking it? theres no indie scene of cycling, folks got bills to pay and beach houses to buy.

    if a beer company wanted to pay the writer of this story a fair price to do some writing for them, im sure theyd be more than happy to sellout and join the armstrong ad campaign, because after all, money makes the world go round. money and kinky sex.

    this has nothing to do with michael phelps or weed. hes smoking out of a ROOR in the picture, wheres that sponsorship deal? roor couldnt afford it.

  5. Anonymous on

    just to be clear, Phelps friends at the party admitted he was already shitfaced when he hit the bong so he didn’t choose weed over alcohol. He was just regularly partying

  6. Anonymous on

    this is the most well fact written article Ive seen in a while. Mad props to, Creators Syndicate via Alternet. Keep the fact machine running guys. But the number one problem with the marijuana movement is not enough of us regular job working/tax paying people are not involved I bet if every one that wanted pot legalized just quit working and paying taxes shit would change real quick. If 14% of our population says fuck working and fuck taxes and they might get the point.