In a TV moment that will go down in sports history, Marion Jones, arguably, the most talented sports athlete of her generation, admitted on live television that she had used steroids. From the steps of a New York courthouse, Marion Jones, with her family, friends and lawyer at her side, apologized to her family, her lawyer, her husband, and her many fans for lying to Federal investigators about her steroid use. Marion Jones has come clean, so what does that mean?
Marion Jones has admitted that she used steroids. From 1999, she used banned steriods, including a product called ‘the clear”, supplied to her by the infamous BALCO operation, headed by one Victor Conte. Mr. Conte, you will remember, was linked to many professional athletes, among them Barry Bonds. She has admitted what was believed by many athletes, coaches and serious sport enthusiasts. Many
in those circles simply hoped that she was not using, as they believed she was so
naturally gifted, she did not need steroids.
Marion Jones is facing the following a) six to ten years in a Federal prison, b) the return of all five Olympic medals from Sydney, b) the return of her World Championship medals from Seville and Edmonton, c) the possible legal action from her sponsors, as they try to recover the millions paid to her for her supposed legitimate performances.
And that is just the issues in the present. Marion Jones has shown, by her actions, that she did not believe in herself, her training or her sport. Her seven years of denying steroid use, and asking her millions of fans to trust her suggest that the award she should be elgible for is Best Actress in a Sports Role.
The saddest thing of all is that she has made the sports fans even more cynical. ESPN’s commentator Jim Rome has caught much of the country’s angst over professional athletes. Yesterday on his Rome is Burning commentary, Jim Rome took aim at Marion Jones. I was sitting in a shoe repair shop at McCormick Center, and as Rome took aim, his words became sharper and sharper. Resonating in my ear was, ” Jones shows what I have thougt all along…Olympic athletes are all dirty.”
In watching the CNN coverage on Friday, I was with a group of high school distance runners who loved Marion and truly felt betrayed. They had seen her denying taking any drugs for most of their lives and now she pleads guilty. The damage she has done to a generation of young athletes is hard to measure.
My son, Adam, called me yesterday, wondering how I felt about Marion Jones. Adam, more than most kids, because both of his parents are employed writing and editing track and field magazines, has known about Marion, meeting her back in 1992 in New Orleans, and knew how much we believed she was too smart to get involved with doping.
What has this done to our sport? Too early to tell. Forever being the optimist, I believe that we will take the pot shots on the sport, however, there are many more athletes to go with BALCO before it wears down. Marion Jones’s debacle shows that all athletes, at whatever level are being viewed from the same standard. Now, any athlete in the sport is suspect.
Who are our role models? In my mind, there are many out there who would never, ever consider taking any drugs. The use of drugs is a costly way of cheating as well. “The clear” did not come cheap-$40 to $60,000 a year. So, in my mind, that suggests that the top athletes, the ones making $100k or more a year, should be tested on a monthly, irregular basis as they are some of the few who can afford to cheat in a way that makes them seem untouchable.
The tragedy of Marion Jones is more than the drug use. Over her young life and career, she has made a series of terrible choices in the men she works with and lives, with, from boyfriends, former husbands and coaches. This does not take away the responsibility that Marion Jones has for her actions. She took the drugs. She made the choice. She is not living in an Eastern bloc country where her family and her livelihood would go away if she did not do what she was told. She has free will and she has to live with her decisions.
Her apology seemed heartfelt. But many will say, after her lying for so long, that perhaps the award Marion Jones should get is the Academy award for best acting
on a sports stage. Unfortunately, until this saga on BALCO is revealed, there are a few
other potential actors who are still hiding their lying and denying.
What do you tell your sons and daughters? Your nephews and nieces? In speaking with one of my friends the other night, we agreed. The people that I continue to model my life on are not sports heroes, not Hollywood movie stars, but my parents, my professors and my coaches.
The lessons of life are taught around the dinner table, on walks at night, perhaps a Monday fishing trip, are on a long drive home from a fall sports banquet. Thirty-two years ago, I remember my father, taking the night off from work, to go with me to a sports banquet. Every one at our table won an award but me, and I was a little down that night. Driving me home, my father told me that he had gone not to see me win anything, but to spend the time with me and he was proud of me for doing my best. It took me many years to understand that, but my father and mother are still the people I go to when I feel lost. And, that is the way it should be.
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