As Marion Jones prepares to re-enter the world of professional sports, she carries with her a message of Second Chances and Making Good Decisions. These themes have appeared consistently in exclusive interviews in columns over the last four months, in addition to the press conference that announced her professional basketball contract with the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock.
The message, which Jones has called the ‘Take A Break’ program, “encourages students, especially young girls, to stop, step away and think when they are faced with a difficult decision,” according to Bill Rhoden, who first wrote about it back in November. “It’s important for people to know that it’s possible to make a mistake in your life, but it’s what you do after the mistake that people are going to remember you by,” Jones told Rhoden in the column. “Are you going to make whatever negatives that happened in your life a positive?” It’s reportedly part of 800 community service hours, mandated as part of her probation.
But the message is at odds with how Jones has handled her own mistakes, the most serious of which she still hasn’t confessed to – that she knowingly used performance enhancing drugs during her track career. Since allegations of her association to BALCO surfaced in 2003, Jones has staunchly denied that claim. As recently as late 2008, in a one-on-one with Oprah after getting released from prison Jones reaffirmed her stance. It was the last time she’s spoken publicly in detail about her association with BALCO.
Since then, print and online columns have not broached the subject. As one of the most prominent faces of the Steroid Era and BALCO – Mt. Rushmore of athletes would something like her, Bonds, McGwire and maybe Clemens? – there are tough questions to ask Marion Jones and the sportswriters with access don’t seem interested in asking them.
The most recent of which is Roy S. Johnson, who wrote about Jones on ESPN.com this week:
“Jones has every right to earn a living, just as everyone else does who has paid his or her dues. She stood up, admitted her crimes and is now trying to put the pieces back together — one crossover move at a time.
Moreover, what would be gained if she slinked away into ignominy? What would we learn beyond what we already know? (Don’t lie to a grand jury!) Instead, her return gives us a chance to see that life can be lived beyond the pits in our own journey.
And she wants to show us how. Jones looks upon her return to competitive sports as much more than a chance to sweat again. It’s an opportunity to share a message.”
The only mistake Jones has admitted to is making false statements to federal agents. Even then, her confession came not from some ethical revelation but as part of a plea bargain deal to reduce her prison term sentence.
But there is a mountain of evidence, from legal documents to witness testimonials to federal interviews, that suggest Jones is still not telling the truth about her use of performance enhancing drugs.
Having “done her time” Jones can now do whatever she wants in life. She doesn’t have to answer to these allegations. And were it not for her very public statements in the press about Doing the Right Thing, she probably shouldn’t be expected to.
But the discrepancy between what Jones says and what the evidence says corrupts any efforts she makes to turn her past into a positive for young people. The only message to objectively decipher from Jones’ behavior is to deny, deny, deny, plea bargain when necessary, and then deny some more.
In this regard, Marion Jones is not so different from her male counterparts in baseball. Like Bonds, Jones has used the “flaxseed oil” excuse to explain her ignorance towards what went into her body. McGwire, who is making his own efforts to re-enter professional sports, is also in denial. In his one-on-one with Bob Costas last month, he denied that steroids played a role in improving his slugging statistics. Reaction commentary to this was highly critical of McGwire and one assumes that if Clemens ever returns to public life, he too will experience similar scrutiny. So why should Marion Jones get a pass?