Tarnished Sports Heroes

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Barbara Barker, Newsday sportswriter and columnist, talks about which is worse for parents -- explaining Michael Phelps' or A-Rod's drug use. Question for parents and kids: How have your discussed A-Rod and Phelps in your family? Comment below!


Barbara Barker

Comments [41]


Phelps - no big deal. The whole argument makes me nostalgic for the days of Nelson Vails, when sports stars used drugs that IMPAIRED performance.

I would any day prefer to explain Phelps' "drug" use. And I have always disliked marijuana use. But I'm unable to see it as more severe than beer drinking.

His DUI is another matter.

But IF (that's a big IF) Phelps is a CHRONIC pot smoker, it actually makes me wonder about whether he's using performance enhancing drugs, only because in my observation, any kind of inhaled unfiltered smoke impairs pulmonary function. We had a team-mate who used to occasionally smoke what were then called "clove" cigarets, and could barely complete practice the same day.

Then again, he's a physiologically freakishly designed for swimming - not just his body type, but his actual movements.

A-Rod? Totally separate issue, as people have already rightly noted. Having just watched the Amgen Tour of Cal. start, admission seems to be an issue beyond baseball.

Feb. 18 2009 12:45 PM
Steve from New Jersey

Using "performance enhancing" steroids is NOT the same as smoking pot at a party, which makes the discussion as presented completely unfair. It's like comparing "apples to oranges" The way I see it, the Michael Phelps issue is twofold...1) The mentality of this society equates smoking marijuana with snorting cocaine or shooting heroin. It is NOT the same!!! while marijuana is a controlled substance, its use is approved for medical purposes in some states and it is nowhere as dangerous nor is it addictive like either of the afore mentioned substances and therefor should not be put in the same category. 2) Now onto Michael Phelps' being seen smoking out of a bong at a party... Simply stated, he was wrong. While it is mostly illegal, many people continue to consume Marijuana, but they do so in the privacy of their own home. And because he is a public figure he should not have been in a public place engaging in an illegal activity...Now, A-Rod's use of "performance enhancing" steroids is a completely wrong too, but for different reasons. He's a highly paid professional baseball player whose high salary is primarily based on his ability to play the game better than most of the other players and if his game was better simply because of steroid use, then he really doesn't deserve what he is getting paid.

Feb. 18 2009 12:36 PM
vernon johns from Manhattan

What did Barbara Barker say at the end of this segment? There isn't a difference in the Phelps story and the A-Rod story?
A-Rod used a harmful substance engineered by man for the express purpose of boosting his performance and giving him an unnatural edge on the field.
Michael Phelps used a natural substance that has been used by man for thousands of years to celebrate and/or relax a bit after dedicating most of his life becoming the greatest swimmer in the world. There is no comparison. There is however an opportunity for an instructive look at many issues surrounding laws, freedom and perceptions in society.

Feb. 18 2009 12:18 PM
andy from manhattan

look, a-rod cheated, period. just like lots of other pro baseball players. but he's a cheat. who knew he was cheating, and lied about it for years. there is no way around being a lying cheater.

phelps partied. then won a gold medal years later. no one would ever describe marijuana as a performance enhancing drug, so i definitely don't see any comparison. i'd say his biggest mistake was to let someone photograph him in a compromised position. not the smoking itself. he's proven that he can handle the odd smoke, and still bring home the gold(s).

let's get over it, and let people live their human lives. the idea of sports figures as heroes is fatally flawed. there are no heroes without faults, anyway. but the rules which prohibit cheating should be strictly and thoroughly enforced. throw all the cheating bums out of their cushy multi-million dollar jobs for playing a game, if they can't do it without cheating.

then, let's move on to a culture that finds REAL heroes that do things worthy of hero status. the media could definitely help with that...

Feb. 18 2009 12:06 PM
beatrice from nyc

unfortunately the wonderful role models we have are not in the limelight.
I dont see how one can compare a cheating professional ballplayer and a young athlete smoking pot on his time.

Feb. 18 2009 12:05 PM
josh from manhattan

When will we learn to stop looking at athletes as role models- they're obviously not. Let's also please get over the pot thing... it will soon be legal! Get over it. Weed and steroids aren't even in the same ballpark!!!

Feb. 18 2009 12:01 PM
Maya from Brooklyn, NY

A-Rod took performance enhancing drugs during training, the games to enhance and aid their performance. Period. He cheated. He broke the rules and was paid while he was doing so.

Phelps smoked pot on his own time, out of training, out of competition, at a party. Period. Big deal.

Feb. 18 2009 12:01 PM

Let's just put them in each other's shoes. How would we react if we found out Rodriguez smoked pot? Nobody would care. How would we react if we found out Phelps used steroids--we would shoot him. So I think steroids is much worse

Feb. 18 2009 12:00 PM
al from queens

Wheaties' loss could be Capt. Crunch's gain.

Feb. 18 2009 12:00 PM
mozo from nyc

How about a steroid league and legalizing pot?

Feb. 18 2009 11:58 AM
Bill from Edison, NJ

Legalize marijuana and remove it from the conversation.

Feb. 18 2009 11:58 AM
r from NYC

ARod has a higher standard because the integrity of the sport is affected. Phelps is falls in the realm of his personal life.

Feb. 18 2009 11:58 AM
Milton from Queens

Why are we looking up to athletes as role models instead of scientist? Michael Pheleps isn't going to solve the energy crisis, A Rod will never split the atom.
We need to look at our priorities in this country, athletes get paid top dollar while science budgets are being cut...

Feb. 18 2009 11:57 AM

Takero Kobayashi smoking a dooby before Nathans hot dog eating contest would be a more apropos comparison to A-rod taking steroids.

Michael Phelps may have lacked judgment, but he was doing it on his own time, not hurting anybody, and not cheating.

Feb. 18 2009 11:57 AM

I disagree with the guest. Olympians aren't professionals, by definition.

Feb. 18 2009 11:56 AM
KC from NYC

I wish this conversation would get around to the obvious point: drug policies in this country are self-defeating and completely hypocritical. But if both Obama's and Rush Limbaugh's past drug use (to make it bipartisan) still can't get Americans to face their own (and their leaders') hypocrisy, nothing will.

Feb. 18 2009 11:56 AM
Sandya Swamy from Chicago, IL

I feel bad for Michael Phelps. Yes, he shouldn't have smoked pot because it's illegal... moreoever, he has to watch his image because he is in the public eye. However, I would have to say nearly 100% of my friends have smoked pot at some point, and all of them are doing quite well-- PhDs, professors, doctors, lawyers, working in finance or government... some of this speaks to looking at marijuana use and societal and legal / political disconnect. Pot is not a performance enhancer though, and shouldn't tarnish his swimming record. It's hard for me to take his pot incident seriously.

A-Rod's faux pas-- much worse. Steroid use is illegal AND it is a form of cheating. Could he have done as well without the steroids? Probably not.

But another poster brings up a good point-- what about the widespread use of cognitive enhancers? (adderall, modafinil, etc?) The stigma doesn't seem quite the same there...

Feb. 18 2009 11:56 AM

I teach Health in the Bronx to high school kids. We did a lesson on this very topic last Friday, and all of my students had infinite sympathy for Michael Phelps, but were visibly angry and disappointed in A-Rod. I think part of it is because marijuana is not considered bad in their communities, yet steriods is considered cheating.

Feb. 18 2009 11:56 AM
SuzanneNYC from Upper West Side

The problem is looking to sports figures as role models in the first place. These guys are adults not children. And adults engage in a variety of behaviors. And I'm really sick of the "teachable moment" meme. Give your children your values regardless of what other people do.

Feb. 18 2009 11:56 AM
JT from LI

Maybe we should teach kids that these guys made a mistake and can recover and move on with their lives. Do we want kids to think that their lives are over if they make a mistake?

Feb. 18 2009 11:56 AM
sundizzle from new york

i am so bummed that michael phelps is considered a "disappointment"... that is ridiculous... would he be considered a disappointment if he had been caught drinking a glass of wine????? marijuana is not harmful & wasnt being used to "enhance his performance"... he was relaxing with friends at a party... hardly a mistake & he should have said so much to the press i reckon... i think we all know at this point that marijuana has been demonized in order to pour money into the drug war which is a huge waste of resources on every level

Feb. 18 2009 11:55 AM
rohini from west new york, nj

Athletes are not role models. all famous athletes have problems...Michael Jordan had or has a gambling problem, Joe Namath used to party really hard the day before a football game. Old baseball players used to smoke, drink and eat unhealthy during their baseball season. So i think we put a lot of pressure on athletes today to be perfect, and they are really not. Parents and teachers are the true role models to our children...

Feb. 18 2009 11:55 AM
Jason N. from Kalamazoo, MI

Oh, good lord!


This is a great topic, but a young man smoking an organic natural substance from the earth as recreational activity - as people have been doing for millennia! - is in no way analogous to an athlete "cheating" by injecting himself with a synthetic performance enhancer.

Man + Earth = Natural

Man + Synthetic Enhancements = Unnatural.

Viva Cannabis Libre!

Feb. 18 2009 11:55 AM
Harry Campbell from Baltimore

Performance enhancing drugs are not the same as a recreational drug like marijuana. Therefore Arod is guilty, he took a drug to enhance his performance and hence earn money based on his performance. Phelps was just smoking some pot which I'm sure would slow him down in the pool if he smoked before competition.
Disclaimer-I go to the same gym that Michael Phelps trains at here in Baltimore. He smoked some pot, big deal.
I'm honest with my kids about drugs and am sure they will experiment with pot at some time. I do feel that coke, crack, heroin, and steroids are in a different league, no pun intended.

Feb. 18 2009 11:55 AM
Milton from Queens

A Rod was already one of the best players in baseball, and he needs to boost his performance? He has to go up against people (probably not too many people nowadays) who didn't take steroids, giving himself an unfair advantage.
Hitting a bong on the other hand... who cares? Just legalize pot already, it's a stupid law. It's like alcohol prohibition... just gives gangs a reason to exist.

Feb. 18 2009 11:54 AM
Edward from NJ

Has the Washington Post asked the president about Michael Phelps? I'm holding off judgment until that happens.

Feb. 18 2009 11:54 AM


Feb. 18 2009 11:54 AM
George Showman from Brooklyn, NY

The marijuana question is not a question for discussion in households, it's actually a question for discussion in Congress. The Phelps mistake is a great opportunity to actually address the unjust laws around marijuana.

Feb. 18 2009 11:54 AM
Reggie C from Brooklyn

I'm a senior in high school and I have to say I honestly feel more sorry for Phelps. Pot is not a performance enhancer, so he didn't cheat but he is still going to lose money. Pot is a recreational drug while steroids is something that can give you an edge. That's why I feel more sorry for Phelps than A-ROd.

Feb. 18 2009 11:53 AM
Zak from Washington Heights

As Craig Kilbourn said on the Daily Show years ago when a Canadian snowboarder was stripped of his Olympic medal for testing positive for marijuana: "Marijuana is not a performance enhancing drug...unless you play bass."

Feb. 18 2009 11:52 AM
Susan from Kingston, New York

This segment is such nonsense!

Feb. 18 2009 11:52 AM
Kate from White Plains, NY

I don't know why we expect athletes to be role models to kids. But, to second everyone else, A-Rod was cheating his game, Phelps was not.

Feb. 18 2009 11:51 AM
Jennifer from NYC

definitely Rodriguez - because he was Cheating as well as using

Feb. 18 2009 11:51 AM
J. Hayes from Brooklyn

a-rod used drugs to become the best. phelps smoked some herb after already shattering world olympic recrods. and, lets not forget, he is doing exactly the same thing every other college aged male on the face of the planet is doing- smoking bongs at a party

Feb. 18 2009 11:50 AM

Why such a big issue about Michael Phelp's and Alex Rodriguez when we have a Mayer that has admitted smoking pot and a president that has admitted using drugs including cocaine.

Feb. 18 2009 11:50 AM
Alex from NYC, EV (hope soon to be in Brooklyn)

Live and let live!

JJ, great point.

Two of my friends took GMAT and LSAT with adderall’s help and now attend Colombia and NYU respectively.

Feb. 18 2009 11:13 AM
hjs from 11211

baseplayers are not the only cheaters & hypocrites our nation is full of them right now, wall st, bankers, the bush team. that's who we are.

Feb. 18 2009 11:11 AM
Danny Pudelek from Park Slope, Brooklyn

I think that A-Rod steroid use is cheating. Micheal Phelps smoking pot is not cheating. Having to explain why someone cheats, I think would be harder to talk about to children.

Feb. 18 2009 11:07 AM
hjs from 11211

Phelps is a jerk he should have said so what I like pot, mind your business. (and who is the other jerk who took the photo, don't invite that one to your party)
the baseball player cheated, using a drug to help him out
phelp's smoking does not help him and he wasn't "working" at the time.

Feb. 18 2009 11:07 AM
linda califano from brooklyn, ny

The book has already been written!

"It's Just a Plant - a children's book about marijuana" is a perfect way to introduce your children to information about marijuana.

Obviously, there are ways to provide detailed, honest information about drugs without promoting their use.

Feb. 18 2009 11:04 AM

The problem is that its hard to shield kids from the real world. In the real world you only matter if you can produce or make a lot of money. No one really cares if you cheat or if you are a good person.

The reality is that whenever you have a ton of money to be made the temptation to cheat is enormous. We have had CEO and treachery on Wall Street and with the ratings agencies over the years that has done far more damage than A-Rod.

But how is what A-Rod did any different than woman and men using Botox, plastic surgery, breast implants etc.. to get ahead in media, Hollywood etc?

What if there is a drug out there that can make your brain process information faster? Do we drug test people before they take the CPA or CFA exams or SAT and bar exams?

Feb. 18 2009 10:54 AM

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