Marion Jones is reportedly out of money, out of work, nursing one child and raising another. She lives in a modest house, having sold the others she once owned. She was forced to give back her Olympic medals. She is banned from track and field, her sport. She was charged with crimes, pleaded guilty, and despite her plea for mercy, a judge sentenced her to jail Friday – six months, for lying to federal investigators, mostly about her steroid use.
This is more than a “fall from grace,” as analysts have called it.
This is a cannon shot.
This is a sonic boom.
This is arguably our most successful female athlete of the last decade, an Olympic and world champion who reigned supreme for years while honing an attractive image, winning races, touting products and loudly denouncing any thought of cheating.
But she was. And she will go to jail. And you know who should be watching this very carefully? Roger Clemens. The star pitcher was screaming his innocence all last week, despite charges in the Mitchell Report that he was injected with steroids numerous times by his personal trainer, Brian McNamee.
Well, you can scream all you want. You can scream lies if you like. But if the government – not “60 Minutes”- starts asking you questions, you better cut to the truth.
Or you can sleep in a cell.
Finally time to tell the truth
“I’m very disappointed today,” Jones, 32, told reporters after her sentencing, “but as I stood in front of all of you for years in victory, I stand in front of you today.”
Say what you will about Jones. When she fesses up, she fesses up. She admitted her lying, admitted her steroid use. She tearfully told a crowd a few months ago, “I have no one to blame but myself for what I’ve done.”
This is quite different from what we hear from most baseball players, whose confessions (if they make them) tend to be, “I only took it to recover from an injury” or “I was told it was something else.” Clemens has been insisting that his trainer indeed injected him – but not with steroids or human growth hormone, only with B12 and lidocaine. This, despite the fact that most medical people roll their eyes at the idea of injections for either. And the thing is, Clemens can jut his chin out as long as he wants in the private sector.
Because the only words that truly matter anymore are “federal investigators.”
Apparently, athletes think nothing of lying to teammates, managers and especially the media. They don’t mind cycling their use of banned substances to avoid positive tests, or using masking agents so they test negative. They don’t mind ignoring their commissioner or a former senator trying to conduct an investigation.
The only party that carries any weight is the federal government. You know why? It’s the only party that can make lying – aka perjury – a crime.
The lessons athletes can learn
And so Jones will go to jail – not for using steroids, but for lying about it. And Barry Bonds could face a similar fate – again, not for his body, but for his mouth.
Meanwhile, Mark McGwire, who clammed up before Congress, is a free man. Jose Canseco, who admitted steroid use in a book and countless interviews, is a free man. Andy Pettitte, who confessed to being injected with human growth hormone by Clemens’ trainer, is a free man. Dozens if not hundreds of others, admitted or suspected, are free men.
And Jones will do six months. What can we conclude from all this? Although I would like to think it shows that steroids aren’t worth it, or that athletes, as the judge who sentenced Jones claimed, “have an elevated status … they serve as role models,” I fear that’s optimistic.
What we’re learning is to choose your lies carefully and stay away from the feds. The image of Marion Jones sleeping in a cell should send shivers down the sports world’s spine. But we can’t erase the memory of her, defiant and angry, when anyone suggested she was on the juice. Only when she took that hubris to the government did she have to pay.
That’s a long way from putting down the needle on your own.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.