What Can We Learn From Marion Jones?

Anything that exposes the truth about drug use in sport is good for ensuring the integrity of sport."
Craig Masback

Simply put Marion Jones is gifted. Even without drugs, Jones may very well have been the fastest woman on earth and arguably the greatest female athlete in the world. As a small child, she was great at everything she attempted...softball, basketball, track and field, tennis, golf, even volleyball. At age 15, presumable without drugs, she ran the 200 meters in 22.87 seconds, breaking the national high school record, and at the age of 18, she led the University of North Caroline to a national championship in basketball. There was nothing she couldn't do in the field of sports at an elite level. Like I said, even without drugs, she was strictly world class. With drugs she became otherworldly...perhaps the greatest female athlete to ever walk the face of the earth. She certainly could out run just about anything on earth and anywhere else for that matter. That is the catch...with drugs she was wraithlike, without them simply world class. She clearly understood the circumstances, and she obviously understood the decision she had to make...a choice that would be difficult for any athlete.

Bruce McDaniel, a former world class high jumper, informed me of the difficulty of making such a decision. "When I was in my first year of college," said Bruce, "my coach came to me and said that if I was ever going to make it to the next level I would have to start using drugs. I was by far the best high jumper on the team. Actually, I was the best straddler in the world. To be honest, I really wasn't convinced that steroids were going to make me that much better so I begged off. Within less than a year, my competitors who were using steroids started closing in on me. Guys who were no where as good as I was were jumping right with me. I realized real quickly that unless I started using drugs I would never fulfill my dreams as an Olympic athlete. Believe me that decision haunted me for years, but I never succumbed to the temptation. I felt drug use was cheating, and I was concerned about the health effects.

Of course, I never did realize my dream of being an Olympic athlete which hurts to this very day. I am sure that is the same decision Marion Jones had to make. I am not saying I agree with her decision, but I understand why she made it. The way it is today it is difficult to compete unless you cheat. That sounds terrible to say, but unless you are gifted, your chance of competing at a world class level are slim unless you use drugs. The fact is that drugs give you that much of an advantage. With drugs an average athlete can become world class, a world class athlete can become otherworldly...they work just that well."

And what does this tell us? McDaniels summed that up nicely as well. "That old saying, 'Cheaters never win is the furtherest thing from the truth.' Cheaters do win. If you want to win, you should cheat...that is exactly what cases like Marion Jones and Barry Bonds tell us. Our children see that the way to succeed in sports is to cheat, and consequently many of them will give in to such temptation, especially when they see that the reward for cheating far outweighs the consequences. That is why I hope some day they can get on top of the drug situation and literally get cheaters out of all sports."

At least today Jones is extremely remorseful that she cheated...NOT! As Mike Golic said, "She is sorry that she got caught...it is forced remorse, not genuine sorrow." I would have to agree with Golic. I find it difficult to believe that Jones would ever have admitted she cheated if she had not gotten caught red handed. Let's be frank she adamantly denied she had ever taken drugs for close to a decade. Worse yet, she sued BALCO founder Victor Conte, in 2004, for $25 million alleging Conte tarnished her reputation when he said on ABC's 20/20 that he supplied performance-enhancing drugs to Jones. She settled that lawsuit on February 5, 2006. According to Conte, the lawsuit cost him a lot of money to defend himself. She also slandered her ex-husband, C. J. Hunter, calling him a liar and a cheat. Just as revealing, she wrote in her 2004 autobiography Life in the Fast Lane,"I have always been unequivocal in my opinion: I am against performance-enhancing drugs. I have never taken them, and I never will." She also made this quote on Sept. 26, 2006 edition of The New York Times after receiving word that her "A" sample tested positive for a steroid at the U.S. Track and Field Championship. "I've defended myself against this. I said I never used performance-enhancing drugs. I'm for a drug-free sport."

What does this tell us? Simply put that a cheaters can also be good liar. One thing I will say, though, Jones understood exactly what she had done. She not only apologized to her family, friends and supporters, but she also apologized to all of her competitors whom she had cheated. She acknowledged that her fellow competitors, teammates and the sport are paying the price for her mistakes and that her admission cannot erase all of that damage. And it certainly was major damage. Not only did she steal all of those Olympic medals from her competitors, but she also stole millions of dollars in bonuses and commercial endorsements. Bruce summed that up nicely also: "The gut wrenching thing from an athlete's stand point is that you train your entire life to realize your goals. You do everything ethically and morally right and then a cheater comes along and robs you of all you worked for your entire athletic life...the opportunity to compete, the recognition and in many cases a lot of money. That is certainly how it was for me. There were guys who would never have beaten me drug free, but they went right on passed me because they were loaded on drugs. It is not fair and it hurts. I know a lot of people will say that everyone at that level is dirty. That is not the case. I never used drugs, and a lot of my friends who were world class competitors never used them. That is just an excuse for cheaters. Even if that were true, which it isn't, that still is not fair to the guy who does everything right and does not make it to that level because his competitors were load on drugs. Who knows, that guy you never heard of may very well be a world class competitor if everyone was drug free. That is the problem; good people are being robbed of their dreams."

Of course, Jones paid for her cheating and indiscretion. All of her medals, as well as her relay teammates' medals, had to be returned, and she was required to repay an estimated $750,000 that she was awarded for her winnings. Actually, the financial penalty was rather lenient considering that she earned over $20 million in endorsement moneys from her victories. That goes without mentioning the money and glory she stole from her competitors. Australian Olympic Committee Chief John Coates echoes those sentiments: "It's very, very disappointing for all of the athletes that competed against her (Jones). ... I don't think an acknowledgment now will ever right the injustice for those other ladies who were robbed of glory, money and opportunities. I would hope that she is punished thoroughly." Darryl Seibel, spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee, agrees with Coates: "Our position on doping is unequivocal. Doping is cheating, and under no circumstance will it be tolerated. If an athlete cheats, they deserve to pay the price for their action."

What can we learn from this? Perhaps Jon Drummond, a gold medalist in the 400 relay in Sydney summed it all up best: "Any use of performance-enhancing substances is a tragedy for the athlete, their teammates, friends, family and the sport. It's like that old saying, 'Cheaters never win.' So no matter how glorious or glamorous things look, you'll get caught and pay a price for it. It doesn't help track and field at all, except maybe by letting the world know that people always get to the bottom of things. We shouldn't be afraid of the truth, but it's sad it came to this. I hope it never happens again, but I am sure it will."

Yours in Strength,

Dr. Judd Biasiotto



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