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The Inside Track | COMMENTARY

This Campaign Has Gone On Too Long

June 27, 2004|Dave Kindred | Sporting News

Marion Jones began her latest fit of high dudgeon by declaring at a news conference that she had never never never, not ever ever, as in never, failed a drug test. Here, one's ears came to life with the buzzing of a Red Herring Alert.

Yet none of the assembled ink-stained wretches interrupted to say, "Er, Ms. Jones, no one said you failed a drug test, perhaps because the drugs in question here were never never never, not ever ever, as in never, discoverable in tests until, like, five minutes ago."

So she kept yapping.

Which sent one man to his library for a Jones biography, "See How She Runs," written by an eminent Chicago journalist, Ron Rapoport. And there, beginning on page 44, was a story almost forgotten.

It was about Jones getting crossways with the folks in charge of track and field in America. Suspension was in the air. She cried foul, she was innocent, it was all a mistake, and unfair, and it could end her career.

When jumping up and down did no good, she got lawyers. The lawyers threatened to file a federal lawsuit against the folks who'd done her wrong.

Sound familiar?

Happened 11 years ago.

She was a senior in high school, a rising star in women's sprinting.

When she failed to appear for a random drug test, the ruling body of American track and field ordered her suspended from national competition for four years.

Her first round of lawyers proved ineffectual, so the husband of her coach's cousin took the case. That lawyer's name was Johnnie Cochran, who hadn't yet met Orenthal James Simpson.

On his theory that the best defense is a good offense, Cochran argued that the letter announcing Jones' drug test date had been misplaced by her coach; he also argued that the sport's drug regulation system was legally indefensible, and he brought up the prospect of a federal lawsuit that would render null and void every drug-use regulation in the track and field book.

The track folks caved.

Jones was back running.

As the raucous rattling of sabers worked then, Jones seems to think it will work this time, too.

The environment has changed. It's doubtful the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is as vulnerable to legal threat as Cochran showed The Athletics Congress to be in the dark ages of 1993. And there now exists a real will to get performance-enhancing drugs out of sports.

Nevertheless, Jones and her lawyers have mounted an extraordinary public relations campaign apparently designed to put public pressure on the USADA to leave poor Marion alone.

She has portrayed herself as a victim of a witch-hunt by power-mad officials who would use circumstantial evidence to ruin her reputation and career. After all, she has never never never failed a drug test.

Jones has challenged the USADA to hold a public hearing on its documentary evidence. The challenge was dramatic but hollow. The USADA's federal charter explicitly calls for private, confidential hearings.

Those she has had, and she had to know she could get no public showdown.

As to why the USADA would cook up a case to bring down the queen of American Olympians two months before another Olympics, even Jones herself could offer no answer. But then, there was a lot she knew nothing about.

BALCO, she had no relationship with BALCO.

BALCO, she'd never taken anything from BALCO.

Well, wait. Maybe, sort of. She said her team searched for a company that produced its own "nutritional supplements." The search led them to BALCO. There is that.

Jones never identified the members of her "team," perhaps because so many of her friends have had their own drug-accusation problems: one coach, the father of her child, an ex-husband who tested positive for steroids four times. Anyway, her "team" discovered BALCO, the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, when it searched for a company that could be trusted in the manufacture of "nutritional supplements" (her words).

Her team wanted to know exactly what went into her "nutritional supplements;" the team didn't want to take a chance that an illegal substance might be slipped in. As to why her team could trust BALCO and no one else, Jones offered no answer on that, either.

So, well, yes, she did take delivery from BALCO of a "nutritional supplement." It was ZMA, a zinc compound. She said she now buys ZMA from stores. The stores are those in your mall that supply stuff to body-building obsessives. As to why she now trusts those stores instead of BALCO, she didn't say.

Jones is is a bright and beautiful woman, a fabulous athlete who has dedicated her life to the pursuit of excellence in her sport. If she is among those Olympians who truly have never never never given in to the temptation to hire the best chemist to move up from eighth in the world to first, her innocence would be a brilliant ray of sunshine on the dark suspicion that the only way to win at the highest levels is to cheat more effectively than the cheater in the next lane. That would be really really really nice.

But I'm afraid.

I'm afraid the lady doth protest too much.

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