Still amateur hour atop the USOC?

Jim Scherr [the USOC's chief executive] has "sent Michael Phelps a letter offering the USOC's assistance and resources to help Phelps avoid future incidents," according to the USOC. The incident to which Scherr referred involved Phelps and a cannabis pipe.

"Based on [Phelps' bong affair], we at the United States Olympic Committee are exceptionally disappointed in Michael," continued Scherr, "as I know he is in himself. And we will be following up and having direct conversations with Michael and the people that are close to him in the near future."

This exceptional disappointment has constrained the USOC to suspend Phelps from racing—a ban that will be honored anywhere in the world—for three months. While the USOC cavalry is coming to Phelps' rescue, its assistance and resources will not include Phelps' stipend money that is in large part there to spend (or in this case not) because of Michael Phelps' on-the-job performance.

It is past time we had this discussion. I've met Jim Scherr, and I believe him a good man. But Mr. Scherr, marijuana is not a performance enhancing drug. Who are you protecting? Is sprint/butterfly specialist Milorad Cavic complaining of the unfair advantage Phelps gains by sucking on a bong pipe? Is the swimming world standing up for young IMer Laszlo Cseh, who competes clean while Phelps'—what?–wiry physique grows more muscular, and his red blood cells increase in number, as cannibis molecules course through his arteries?

Are you protecting the sanctity of the race environment, Mr. Scherr? All of this occurred after the Olympics, not at an event, not in preparation for an Olympics, or a National or World Championship, or any sporting event or camp or clinic or appearance; the occurrence had absolutely nothing to do with sports, except in the USOC's oblique opinion that what it considers your bad behavior, at any time, sport-specific or not, impacts on its mission and, therefore, is subject to its governance.

It's only fair to state the skeletons in my closet. I cannot ever be a U.S. President, because I have never smoked pot. Nor have I been a fall-down drunk, nor have I sampled cocaine. In the most recent presidential election, then-Senator Obama made an almost-crucial error by padding his own pothead resume. As with a degree in law, a degree in pot seems in this age a prerequisite for public service; so I'm left to regret the lack of a misspent youth, and can boast only a spent youth.

Jim Scherr and I both appear, then, to be looking in on Phelps' behavior as countercultural outliers. We can each choose to think what we want of Phelps' personal habits. It's my guess Jim Scherr and I each have an aversion to pot smoking. The difference between us is the way we answer this question: What is the proper circumscription of sports governance?

I doubt Mr. Phelps' inhalation is a tactical building block in a life narrative suited for political office. It doesn't matter if, why, or that he inhaled. Jim Scherr and the USOC have no right, no license, no statutory duty, to help Phelps find his moral bearings. Scherr might choose, as a private citizen, to take on the role of a mentor, and that would be laudable. But when you offer this help in a press conference, whose problem are you really trying to fix?

In assuming the posture of the moral buttinsky Scherr and the USOC are not saving or preserving integrity on the field of play. Rather, a critical mass of its constituents may grow to tire of the USOC's confusing its mission with that of Focus on the Family, and the other 80 or so evangelical organizations that call Colorado Springs home.

I have heard this justification given for the actions of US Swimming and the USOC: Phelps broke the law. Fine. Do we need 90-day suspensions handed down to all athletes guilty of misdemeanors? How could this not extend to age-group athletes as well, since none of the USOC's 45 constituent federations (to my knowledge) differentiate between professionals and age-group athletes in matters of moral turpitude or performance enhancing drugs? The rulebook is the rulebook. The Code is the Code.

It's not that I don't want to hear from Jim Scherr. I want to hear what he has to say about Alex Rodriguez' actions during his 2003 MVP year. Did Rodriguez take performance enhancers, as is alleged? What ought America's top sports governance executive say about that? One of the USOC's constituent federations is USA Baseball, and the fact that Scherr has no specific power over Rodriguez, as he does over Phelps, should not muzzle Scherr. Yet mum on Rodriquez Scherr has remained, if the USOC's own website is a gauge.

What is the USOC's proper focus? Fairness in, excellence in, and organization of, sport. That's it. The reason the USOC can oversee a process that strips Michael Phelps of his right to ply his trade is because Ted Stevens (yes, that Ted Stevens) husbanded a bill through the U.S. Senate 30 years ago, called The Amateur Sports Act. The Act, as it is called in sports governance circles, replaced the AAU—an organization devoted to its own self-preservation at the expense of the best interests of the athletes it governed.

The old AAU stood in the way of athletes keeping the fruit of their labor, using as its cover story the retaining of "amateurism" in sport. In 1978, Congress stepped in to strip the true amateurs—those in sports governance—from power, so that the true professionals—the athletes—could get on with plying their vocations.

This Ted Stevens legislation was a big step forward. But is it not still amateur hour in Colorado Springs, when you strip Michael Phelps of the right to ply his trade using a "code of conduct" leveraged over every aspect of an athlete's life? Why regress to the age before The Act? "Our focus has been making sure [athletes] understand the obligation of being an Olympian whether it's competing in the Olympic arena or in their post-Olympic lives," Scherr said.

In other words, if you want to earn a living as a sportsman, or simply compete at any level—in any sport under which the USOC exerts control, whether the activity is Olympics-related or not—you must adhere to the USOC's concept of a proper moral life. Is this what we want from sport's governance? I don't think so. If you disagree, talk me down. I'll see you over in our Reader Forum.