When we put people way up high on a pedestal, the only thing we can know for certain is that they will eventually fall. Here in America, we tend to have expectations for our public figures that we ourselves cannot even begin to live up to, essentially setting them up for certain failure. We tend to forget that no one is perfect, not even a record setting, Olympic gold-medalist. But oh, how we want them to be.
Michael Phelps, darling of the swimming pool, winner of eight gold medals, hero and role-model for children everywhere was photographed smoking pot at a party in South Carolina and, under South Carolina law that constitutes a misdemeanor charge carrying a fine of up to $200 and up to 30 days in jail. Phelps has admitted to his crime and it is now up to the law enforcement officials to decide what will be his fate . . . or is it? It seems that the court of public opinion is already in full swing.
We all have our ideas of how this situation should be handled, don't we? What do you think? Should we stone
him in the town square, give him a slap on the wrist, or simply avert our gaze and pretend to have seen nothing? The answer depends upon whom you ask.
Not surprisingly, the ladies on Wednesday's episode of The View weighed in on the subject (did you really have any doubt that they would?) and, as usual, there was a general lack of agreement (no surprise there either). You have to admit though, that Mr. Phelps' predicament brings up a lot of fascinating ethical questions.
Should smoking pot even be a crime? Should Michael Phelps receive special treatment because he is a celebrity? Should we strip him of his medals, of his lucrative endorsement contracts, send him to jail, make en example of him? Elisabeth Hasselback believes, as do I, that wrong-doing must be recognized as such and that there must be consequences. Yes . . . there . . . I've said it. For the first time, I actually agree with Elisabeth. But only to a point.
Elisabeth argued that, as good parents, we attempt to teach our children that if they do something wrong there will be consequences. We will still love them and even forgive them, but the consequences are necessary if they are to learn how to behave appropriately and function in society. Okay so far.
But Elisabeth, who tends to see everything in terms of black and white where others are able to sense some gradations of gray, feels that Michael has committed a crime and must now be punished - to the fullest extent of the law - and then some. Her point that he has been thrust, through his Olympic participation and his celebrity endorsements, into the position of role model necessitates that an example be made of him. A $200 fine and some jail time? Hell no! He needs to also be publicly humiliated and financially ruined by being stripped of his endorsement contracts (as he is no longer fit to be a role model for our kids). Otherwise, all of our efforts at reigning in our own children's behavior will be for naught. Yes . . .well . . .
First of all, I have a little more confidence regarding my level of influence on my children's behavior than that. Secondly, I believe that punishment, to be effective, actually needs to fit the crime. While we all may differ on how we view this particular crime and on how we feel about the use of recreational drugs or the illegality of such substances, the fact remains that marijuana possession is currently a crime in South Carolina and Michael should therefore be held accountable. But what punishment fits here?
Does one mistake on the part of Michael Phelps negate all of the inspiration that his achievements have thus far provided? Does one small error of judgment damn him to eternal hellfire? I'm not suggesting that Michael get special treatment because he is a celebrity, but I also believe that celebrity should no more be used to crucify a person than it should be used as a free pass. If he was just an average Joe Citizen, would we be so hell-bent on his complete humiliation? Would we fine Joe Sixpack millions of dollars and shame him nationally and internationally for the same offense?
Yes, Michael Phelps should be held accountable for his actions. But is it necessary to make him into some sort of example by stripping him of all of his achievements and his dignity in the process? Wouldn't it make more sense for us, as parents, to take responsibility for our own children's moral education by using the mistake of Michael Phelps as a teachable moment? How about taking the time to talk to our kids about the mistake he has made and point out how careful we all need to be not to make foolish choices and tarnish our sterling images? What about using Michael's situation as a great example of how important it is to think before we act, to not follow the crowd, to avoid the dangers of illegal drugs?
Perhaps, as Joy Behar suggested, the most constructive punishment would be to have Michael Phelps make a few PSA's that encourage kids to make better choices than he has so they can avoid his fate. Wouldn't that be a more fitting punishment than destroying the man socially and financially? I think so. What do you think?