Two interesting events happened in the American sporting world in the past two years. It involved two famous sportsmen, but it had nothing to do with sports. Michael Vick, a footballer for the Atlanta Falcons, was caught running a dog fighting ring. The uproar was tremendous as public opinion flowed in to protest the ghastly crime committed by the player. The law was also not slow in slapping him with some strong felony charges and he was rightly sent packing to prison.
Until recently, Vick served his prison term, lost his NFL berth, became bankrupt, was not easily forgiven by the law and still struggles to get back to his life. Now, all is well and good in this story. A man deserves to be punished for his crimes, in this case, the death of dogs. Even today, public opinion is largely skewed towards punishing him more by denying him a start to his NFL career. Great media coverage, great legal prosecution, great punishment and a great public reaction.
Now, fast forwarding it to another incident that involved the best swimming sensation the planet has ever seen so far, was another Michael, whose last name Phelps was being associated with everything good that people can think of either in the sporting world, in the business world, the media or the public in general. Michael Phelps was caught smoking Marijuana largely by accident when someone clicked away and shared photos that were probably not meant for public viewing. This is when the big “WHAT!!!?” sparked in my mind. The public protested but it just lasted a few days and seemed more of something done out of embarrassment than anger. The media covered it too. But, they too were caught up with news that was not getting enough attention from the public and to make matters worse even the law. The law did start investigating the matter, but soon enough, “public” opinion emphasized on the fact that this is “just” news and it is “just” drugs. In the words of the Sheriff who investigated the matter – “We had a photo and we had him saying he was sorry for his inappropriate behavior. That behavior could have been going to a party”. He never said, ‘I smoked marijuana.’ He never confessed that”. Phelps own statement went this way – “For me, it’s all about recognizing that I used bad judgment and it’s a mistake I won’t make again”. Great choice of words for something that Phelps did that nobody knew about! What was he feeling bad about? Nevertheless, people grew tired of the investigation, the law never followed up, Phelps got punished by not being allowed to swim in one of the pools and everyone was happy that the embarrassment didn’t last long.
This is where the big question arises – if something that affects dogs could evoke such genuine reaction and swift action, why can’t something that can tremendously affect people the world over not get the right response. Although personally there is nothing against Phelps, I fail to understand why Phelps and Vick couldn’t end up being on the same side of the fence. One obvious reason why it wasn’t that way is because people in general do not understand the number of lives that Marijuana takes in its way as it reaches the hands of a society that still fantasizes its use and struggles to outright criminalize its consumption.
Marijuana comes from several domestic and largely international sources. According to the US DEA, Marijuana is the most widely abused and readily available illicit drug in the USA. About 30% of the US population has used Marijuana sometime in their lives. This could potentially explain the lukewarm reaction to the “Phelps show”, but the dangers are not exposed enough. Organized crime groups and cartels run these operations in different countries possibly eliminating a few people before a pound of Marijuana makes its way to US shores. A high quality Marijuana sells for about $6000 per pound. I believe it is safe to assume that on its way to the US, a pound of Marijuana must have eliminated at least one person in a so called “third world” country. No price can be set for life, whether it is a person or an animal. That price is definitely not as low as $6000 or $10000 a pound. If a person consumes a gram of marijuana, he is in effect paying $12 for ecstasy and $0 for one human life. The question becomes who needs to pay for the “free” life that one consumes when smoking this drug. Given that this is designated as a gateway drug to more powerful drugs, the bloodshed on the way is immeasurable but yet more significant. If Vick paid up millions in fines and lost his job for the “life” that he consumed, why couldn’t a user of drugs also be responsible for a similar fate?
The war against drugs has been ongoing for several years and there has always been a debate over who the “criminal” is and who needs to be punished for the selling and consumption of drugs. Nevertheless, public reaction and debate are the only triggers that can create laws that protect the weak – a dog or a human being. By remaining silent or worse not even bothering to react, we people have probably exposed our inability to value human life beyond the life of a dog by refusing to think and question the actions around us.