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Phelps leads Americans down high road

At 24, Michael Phelps has lived the high life; both literally and figuratively.

Unfortunately for Phelps, for a while, the poor guy’s incredible Olympic achievements were outshined by the ominous photo… with the bong. The photo, published in January by the British newspaper News of the World, flushed Phelps’s “All-American good guy” image right down the drain. His reported $500,000 deal with Kellogg’s was also quickly dropped.

Sure he groveled and apologized to his fans for his “inappropriate” behavior. And sure, we forgave him. I mean, have you seen the guy swim?!

Six months after the unveiling of Phelps’s party time in North Carolina, we saw him back on TV for Subway in an advertising campaign called “Be Yourself.” The campaign name is amusing in itself and implies that Subway doesn’t care about what happened with Phelps.

Dan Neil of the Los Angeles Times suggested that “Phelps has moved the weed needle,” which was published in an article in the Tampa Bay Times and was titled, “Phelps smokes another rival: marijuana hysteria.”

This is something that I hadn’t even considered. At the time the photo was released, most of what I heard was about how horrible it was that someone of role model stature would be doing something like that. Knowing that millions of Americans smoke marijuana (often too), this critical attitude seemed a bit hypocritical.

Neil reported that 13 states have legalized medicinal marijuana, and in many other states the possession of less than an ounce is legal. We all know that many more states are considering legalizing marijuana.

Could Phelps have accidentally pushed America in the right/wrong direction?

Americans have created the stereotype of the “stoner” going nowhere in life. Many believe that anyone who smokes marijuana is addicted to all other kinds of drugs and should be put into rehab. Well, yes, sometimes this is true, but, of course, sometimes it just isn’t.

As we’ve seen with the recent legalization of marijuana in some parts of the country, and even with the Phelps’ scandal, we are shying away from our old weed stereotypes.

Neil argues that Phelps’s lack of consequences have shown that big time companies aren’t ashamed of the connotation that Phelps will forever carry.

After the scandal, Phelps’s other endorsement deals (Speedo, Omega, Subway and Mazda-China) stood right by him. In June, he even signed on to endorse H20 Audio, a company that makes waterproof headphones.

What you’re probably thinking is that these companies aren’t consciously trying to advance the “legalize marijuana” cause. That’s probably true, but you do know they’ve at least thought about it.

Imagine that you’re the president of one of these organizations, Speedo for example. Right after the photo was released, you call an emergency board meeting to decide what to do about it. One side of the argument is that you don’t want to be associated with someone who “breaks the law,” not to mention moral code. Then, of course, the other side is that nobody really cares about that because he’s still an awesome Olympic athlete.

What side would you be on? It’s inevitable that the whole ordeal will blow over eventually, as all scandals do. Yet, you know that it will always remain in the back of people’s minds. You have to ask yourself if the pros outweigh the cons. Will you lose business because you continue to endorse Phelps? Will people associate you with being pro-legalization?

Yeah, it’s a toughie but these companies apparently decided to stick with him. The reason must have been because they figure people don’t really care that much about marijuana.

Neil reported that studies show that 100 million Americans have smoked pot, which makes Phelps no different, really, than those millions of Americans.

Regardless of where you stand on marijuana rights, the truth is that one picture is worth a thousand words. Proponents of marijuana have worked for years to achieve this step toward their cause and they didn’t even have to do anything for it this time.