As the sports world says a fond farewell to Michael Phelps, the most bemedaled Olympian that ever was, it's worth remembering the idiotic moral outrage that exploded when this picture of the eventual 18-gold-medal-winning swimmer surfaced in early 2009.
To me, the most appalling aspect was the public apology that Phelps ended up giving, presumably as a way of salvaging endorsement deals and an up-to-then squeaky-clean image. I don't begrudge him doing that, but it's a damn shame that we live in a country and world where even great athletes - not to mention presidents and actors and corporate titans and all sorts of public personalities and private citizens - are coerced one way or another into the sort of self-recriminations that sound like something left over from Mao's Cultural Revolution or the days of the Star Chamber.
From an account of his apology:
"I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment," Phelps said in a statement released by Octagon, his management firm, and posted on his Facebook site. "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. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public—it will not happen again."
At moments like that, you don't have to be Jeremiah Wright to muse, god bless American? No, god damn America!
To Michael Phelps: Thanks for the incredible memories and spectacles and performances. What can you say about an athlete so phenomenal that he makes Ray Ewry, Paavo Nurmi, Mark Spitz, and Carl Lewis seem like minor champions?
To the millions of Americans arrested for pot offenses since the last Olympics: One day, the leaders of this country will apologize to you and your children and spouses and sisters and brothers and parents. That day, which can't come soon enough, has already taken far too long to get here.
To the politicians and legislators who have smoked pot and even campaigned to end the drug war or have taken credit for ending the drug war: What will it take for you to stop at the very least the war on pot that serves no function but the rank wasting of lives, time, money, and other resources?
Related: Bill Maher reviews Doug Fine's Too High to Fail in the NYT.
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