Saturday, January 12, 2008

Marion Jones' Descent From Olympic Hero to Common Criminal

Marion Jones has been sentenced to six months in jail and 800 hours of community service as punishment for lying to federal investigators about using performance-enhancing drugs to cheat her way to the top of the track and field world. All of her results since September 2000 had already been stricken from the record books and Jones had also been previously stripped of the Olympic and World Championship medals that she won after that time. Years ago, Americans believed that our athletes--unlike those from totalitarian regimes like the former Soviet Union, East Germany and China--competed without cheating. Remember when Carl Lewis lost to steroid user Ben Johnson in the 1988 Olympics only to be vindicated after Johnson failed a drug test? Lewis had been complaining for quite some time about how much drug use had permeated track and field; until Johnson was caught, Lewis had been derided in many quarters as a whiner and a sore loser. Lewis may have been one of the last track and field athletes who had integrity, because he did not buy into the mentality that it would be OK to cheat because other people were doing it.

Jones had no such qualms, either about cheating or about defiantly lying about it. Jones should get a day in jail for every time she publicly stated that she never used performance-enhancing drugs. Mark McGwire has deservedly caught heat for saying that he did not want to talk about the past but for many years it seemed like Jones could not stop talking about the past. In her 2004 autobiography titled Marion Jones: Life in the Fast Lane, she devoted a full page to declare, in bold red letters: I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN UNEQUIVOCAL IN MY OPINION: I AM AGAINST PERFORMANCE ENHANCING DRUGS. I HAVE NEVER TAKEN THEM AND I NEVER WILL TAKE THEM.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas said of Jones' repeated, vocal denials of her cheating, "This was a worldwide lie" and added that he hopes her jail sentence conveys a powerful message: "There's a very strong inference that would make other athletes think twice before lying. Nobody is above the obligation to tell the truth.''

Jones' descent from hero to disgraced criminal is tragic but there is also good news here: a high profile cheater has been caught, convicted and sentenced. Perhaps this example will be enough to dissuade future athletes from risking it all for a chance to obtain fleeting glory.

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