Friday, December 24, 2010

Old News (But BAD for SC) - South Carolina sheriff may seek charges against Michael Phelps

(Yes, I know this is an old story but it just shows what advocates here in South Carolina – hey if you find any other than me let me know! – are up against. It’s a horrid law as are many, many of the State’s attitudes toward many things – like marriage and divorce topping my list of South Carolina mess ups. We’re still in medieval SC. WAKE UP PEOPLE! It had to be our state that began the Michael Phelps scandal! No shocker there! South Carolina does rehabilitate people “on” marijuana, however, and they are lumped in with alcoholics at a specialty treatment center. What a hypocrisy! And a lie… say it nicely!)

McClatchy newspapers, Tuesday 3 February 2009 16.32 GMT

Michael Phelps

The multiple Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps may yet face criminal charges. Photograph: CHRIS GARDNER/AP

Leon Lott, a South Carolina sheriff, says he will charge Michael Phelps with a crime if he determines the Olympics hero smoked marijuana in Richland County.

Phelps, who set a record with eight gold medals in the 2008 Summer Olympics, was photographed smoking a marijuana pipe at a November party in Columbia, South Carolina.

The picture was published in the British newspaper News of the World. Phelps apologized on Sunday, calling his behavior "inappropriate".

"This case is no different than any other case," Lott said yesterday. "This one might be a lot easier since we have photographs of someone using drugs and a partial confession. It's a relatively easy case once we can determine where the crime occurred."

Possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a $570 (£395) fine, plus court costs.

But Lott seems to be the only person talking about making a case against Phelps. Both the University of South Carolina and Columbia police departments said they would not pursue charges.

It was unclear yesterday where the party took place, including whether it was on the university's campus.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Phelps' sponsors - from apparel company Speedo to luxury Swiss watchmaker Omega - issued statements calling the incident a "non-issue". The International Olympic Committee accepted his apology.

"We have no reason to doubt his sincerity and his commitment to continue to act as a role model," the IOC said in a statement.

At the University of South Carolina, where Phelps was visiting when the picture was taken, students shrugged off the controversy.

"It's not a surprise," said India Jones, a biology major. "He's young, and he is human. They'll probably let him off easy because he owned up to it."

This isn't the first time Phelps has been in trouble following a gold medal performance. In 2004, fresh off his wins in the Athens Olympics, he pleaded guilty to drunk driving in Maryland.

Forgiveness of Phelps could be attributed to how he handled both situations - admitting up front he did it and apologizing, said Matt Brown, associate professor for sport and entertainment management at the University of South Carolina.

"America is a forgiving society, and he came out and apologized

immediately," Brown said. "I think as long as we don't see more pictures coming out and more things coming out that he's been doing this consistently, he'll be OK."

It also helps that many see Phelps as a nice guy. When he was in Columbia, he took time to speak to a class on sports' role in society.

"It was amazing how gracious and how humble and just how helpful he tried to be," said Sid Kenyon, a South Carolina adjunct professor who taught the class. "I can't tell you how impressed I was with his mannerism and just how willing he was to help and do anything that we asked him."

The Phelps story broke not in a sports magazine, but in a celebrity newspaper. Sports and entertainment journalism have been merging for years, Brown said, never more so than in the Olympics, which attracts a wider audience - including the kind of people who watch celebrity news on Entertainment Tonight, an American television show. "It becomes much more of an entertainment event than a sports event," he said.

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