The performance of the decade, Professional Athlete Division, occurred May 16, 2004 in a ballroom at New York City's Marriott Marquis hotel. That was the day Marion Jones took the stage at the U.S. Olympic Summit and eloquently swore up and down, inside and out, that she never had used performance-enhancing substances. What's more, if the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency prevented her from participating in the Athens Games without a failed test to support its decision, Jones vowed to hit it with a lawsuit quicker than her best time in the 100-meter dash.
Jones, typically a compelling interview, was in peak form that day. It had been reported months before that Victor Conte, founder of Bay Area Laboratory Co-Op, had provided steroids to Jones and Tim Montgomery, her live-in partner and world record-holder in the 100 meters. Jones denied the allegations and went on the offensive in New York, portraying herself as the victim of a witch hunt.
"I'm not just going to sit down and let someone or a group of people or an organization take away my livelihood because of a hunch, because of a thought, because of somebody who is trying to show their power," Jones said with fiery conviction. "I know that I've always been drug free, I am drug free and I want to continue to be drug free. If I make the Olympic team . . . and I'm held from the Olympic Games because of something that somebody thought, you can pretty much bet that there will be a lawsuit. I don't have a problem saying that at all."
Jones got her way, although her dismal efforts in Athens raised suspicions, with good reason as it turned out. Last month, Jones wilted under the searing heat of the ongoing global investigation into steroid use. She admitted that more than 160 substance tests she'd passed failed to tell the truth. She'd used "the clear," renowned for its performance-enhancing, detection-evading qualities, starting before the Sidney Games at which she won three gold medals and a pair of bronze medals. Once considered the world's premier female athlete, Jones was exposed as a disgraced fraud.
The repercussions of her admission continue to resonate. On Friday, the International Association of Athletics Federations announced the eradication of all performances by Jones since Sept. 1, 2000. She must forfeit her Olympic medals and make restitution on some $700,000 in prize money, although she's reportedly broke. It'll be interesting to see if her untainted competitors bring their own civil suits, claiming Jones cheated them out of their rightful accomplishments.
This latest chapter in the Jones saga comes as baseball nears the release of the Mitchell Report, an investigation into use of performance-enhancing substances within the sport. The recent indictment of Barry Bonds on perjury charges over grand jury testimony given in the BALCO case heightens the curiosity surrounding the findings. What has baseball learned and, just as importantly, what will it reveal?
From the outset, baseball's self-examination teemed with conflict of interest. Former senator George Mitchell, appointed by Commissioner Bud Selig to lead the investigation, is a minority owner of the Boston Red Sox. His dual capacity was called into question before Game Seven of the American League Championship Series, when Indians pitcher Paul Byrd was identified as a mail-order recipient of performance-enhancing substances. Mitchell denied having any part in the information's release but the ethical divide provides reason for doubt.
Baseball's credibility is on the line with the Mitchell Report. Will it name names? Will it identify Bonds, which seems mandatory given Selig's avoidance of the home-run chase? Is there cause for further contemplation within the game's administrative office now that an immigration attorney has said any foreign players identified could be prohibited from obtaining visas? There's little chance, wouldn't you say, that baseball will release the kind of information that hinders its ability to operate or threatens its record revenues.
A little more than three years ago Jones vehemently insisted she was clean, that her accomplishments were pristine. She went as far as to advocate the use of blood tests in an effort to rid track and field of performance-enhancing substances and protect the sport's image. "Do I think it's widespread?" she asked. "I can't comment on that. I know what one person is doing and one person only, and that's the lady that's sitting in the chair right now."
We've heard similar denials from Bonds and from Sammy Sosa. We've heard Mark McGwire talk right around the issue. And the list goes on.
How many athletes, like Jones, have been telling something far away from the truth?