Athletes, Stars Speak Out on Michael Phelps Bong Brouhaha

Much like the lingering aroma from a pungent cloud of pot smoke, the controversy over Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps’ bong photo is not dissipating easily.

The 23-year-old Phelps—who racked up a record eight gold medals at last summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing, China—was forced to apologize after British tabloid News of the World published a photo of him appearing to take a hit off a bong over the weekend.

And while both the International Olympic Committee, and Phelps’ sponsors Omega and Speedo have cut the athlete some slack on the matter, the athletic community itself is now weighing in with varying opinions.

Phelps’ Olympic teammates have quickly paddled to the swimmer’s defense, reports Us Magazine. Dara Torres, the 41-year-old swimmer who took home three silver medals from the Beijing Olympics, told the Associated Press, “This in no way, shape or form diminishes anything [Phelps has] done…It’s sort of a double-edged sword.”

She continues, “When you’re recognizable, you’re looked up to as a role model. He is recognizable, and everything you do gets looked at and picked apart. I guess that’s the price of winning 14 Olympic medals.”

Jason Lezak, a member of the USA’s Olympic 400-meter relay team, was more cautious in his support for his former teammate.

“While I don’t condone his conduct, I am a teammate and fan,” Lezak related to the AP via a text message. “Unlike many fair-weather people, I am sticking by him. If my wife and I can help him in any way, we will. I believe he will grow from this and be better person, role model and teammate.”

Even pop-rocker John Mayer chimed in today by Twittering, “Glad Phelps’ sponsors are sticking with him. We often have completely incongruous expectations for other people’s humanity vs our own.”

Coming from the other end of the spectrum is Phoenix Suns center Shaquille O’Neal. The 36-year-old NBA star and law-and-order advocate—who was sworn in as a reserve police officer for the Miami Police Department in 2005, while playing for the Miami Heat—was predictably disappointed by the news.

“Say it aint so what im reading about michael phelps,” O’Neal twittered today, “is this real?”

Funny, that was the same question many theater-goers asked themselves after watching Shaq’s 1996 cinematic effort, Kazaam.