The continued disgrace of Marion Jones


I was watching The Daily Show the other night, when I saw Marion Jones get interviewed by Jon Stewart. I then recalled that the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary "Marion Jones: Press Pause" sitting in my DVR, so I watched it the next day.

What I saw in the two programs was disgraceful, and it is evident that Marion Jones' most recent PR campaign (book tour and all) is a joke.

For those who don't remember, Marion Jones won five Olympic medals (3 gold, 2 bronze) at the 2000 Sydney Games in track and field, and at one point was considered one of the greatest female athletes in history. Jones, a Los Angeles-native who went to high schools in Oxnard and Thousand Oaks, also led North Carolina to the NCAA women's basketball title in 1994. Jones was later implicated in the BALCO steroid scandal and admitted to lying to federal investigators, leading to a six-month jail sentence in 2008.

In both the documentary and in the Jon Stewart interview, Jones cited a momentary lapse in judgment in 2003 when she lied to federal authorities about knowing whether she had used a substance similar to what was presented to her in a vial. The substance was "The Clear", a designer steroid from BALCO lab in San Mateo. Jones lied and said she hadn't taken it before, but today admits she did, albeit not knowing that it was a steroid.

However, that was not the only time Jones lied to federal authorities. She did so several more times in that same 2003 testimony, and then lied on several more occasions when testifying on a check fraud scheme. Alan Abrahamson does an excellent job of laying out the Jones case on his site 3Wire Sports.

Incredibly, the documentary, directed by the well-respected John Singleton (Boyz in the Hood, Four Brothers, among other films) never mentions those other lies and makes it appear as if Jones' six-month prison sentence was based solely on the one lie in 2003.

Jones essentially reiterates that false perception with Jon Stewart, and then lies more directly later in the show. Stewart seemed incredulous to the fact that Jones, an elite athlete, could take a banned substance and not know it. Jones said that elite athletes tend to trust their "inner circle." Stewart asked if anyone in her "inner circle" went to jail too. Jones said "no", but added one of them was brought up on charges and they were dropped.

I'm not sure who Jones was referring to, but the fact is that several people in her "inner circle" went to jail. Her second husband, former 100m record holder and admitted steroid user Tim Montgomery, is currently in jail for his role in the check fraud scheme that Jones lied about. (He's also in jail for dealing for heroine.) Her former coach, Trevor Graham, was placed under house arrest for a year, and is permanently banned from track and field. BALCO founder Victor Conte, who said he personally gave Jones banned substances, spent four months in jail. Another of her former coaches, Steven Riddick, is currently serving a four-year jail sentence for the check fraud scheme, which actually accounted for four of Jones' six-month prison sentence.

If two of her former coaches, her ex-husband, and her drug supplier aren't her "inner circle," then I don't what is.

Additionally, Jones' assertion that she didn't know she was taking steroids, is nothing short of preposterous. Her first husband, former shot put champion CJ Hunter, claimed Jones knew exactly what she was doing. Hunter is also an admitted steroid user. Jones' second husband, Montgomery, also claims that he knew he was taking steroids from BALCO. The evidence against Jones' claim of ignorance is overwhelming.

I can understand why Jones would lie in the heat of the BALCO investigation back in 2003. I can even understand why she might have lied about the check fraud scheme years later. But it's sad to see that she is continuing to lie today. And it's an even sadder commentary on our society that she is being celebrated for her "comeback" (she's playing in the WNBA, has written book, and is becoming a popular motivational speaker), without fully coming clean.

Make no mistake - Marion Jones lied in the past, and she is continuing to lie. I have no doubt that she was a naturally gifted athlete with a relentless work ethic, and she may very well have won an Olympic gold medal without using steroids. But she remains dishonest about her usage to this day.

Jones' case provides an interesting look at the psychology of steroid users. I think most of society wants athletes to come clean and admit that they used performance enhancers to gain an edge. I think we also want to know some detail as to how the process took place and see some remorse. Yet, in very instances have we ever seen that.

Some athletes who admitted they used steroids, refuse to believe that it helped them (Mark McGwire). Others claim it was just a one-time thing (Andy Pettitte) or just for a limited time (Alex Rodriguez). Some still continue to deny taking them (Roger Clemens) or deny knowingly taking them (Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, Justin Gatlin). There are some who have admitted taking steroids, but won't discuss the matter in any detail (Jason Giambi). And then there are those who did confess everything, but feel virtually no remorse (Jose Canseco, Ken Caminiti). Of all the steroid admissions I've heard, former sprinter Kelli White's claim was the most satisfying to me, as she detailed the impact BALCO had on her ability to win at the 2003 World Track and Field Championships.

In Jones' case, the refusal to come clean appears to stem from a sense that an outright admission would diminish the extraordinarily hard work she put into becoming the world's best. But as Abrahamson points out, most steroids allow athletes to recover more quickly from their workouts, allowing them to put in more work than others. Additionally, the steroids Jones took allowed her to compete in five different events in the Sydney Olympics while not feeling as much fatigue.

Marion Jones has a winning personality, and it's hard not to like her. I even find myself rooting for her to succeed in the WNBA. But it's beyond disappointing that she continues to be dishonest and that many in the media are actually buying her act.


More by Phil Wallace:
USC fires Lane Kiffin
Hollywood Park back in the picture
HBO's Real Sports highlights Chivas USA's troubles
Don't get too excited about the Lakers' cap space
How Jim Buss ruined the Lakers
Previous Native Intelligence story: LA Observed goes to LACMA

Next Native Intelligence story: Angeleno Datebook-November 18, 2010

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