Olympic champion Marion Jones learned her fate last Friday: She was sentenced to the maximum six months in prison for lying about using steroids and for her role in a check-fraud scheme. She pleaded for lenience out of concern for her two young children, including an infant she’s still nursing. But U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas said he imposed the maximum sentence to send a message to pro athletes:
“Athletes in society have an elevated status; they entertain, they inspire, and perhaps most important, they serve as role models.”
Jones was also given two years’ probation and must perform 800 hours of community service.
Despite previous denials that she had ever used performance-enhancing drugs, last October Jones finally admitted she had used a steroid called “the clear” from September 2000 to July 2001. Jones won three gold and two bronze medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics: golds in the 100- and 200-meter runs, and in the 1600-meter relay, and bronzes in the long jump and 400-meter relay. She returned those medals before the International Olympic Committee asked her to do so.
After pleading guilty last year, Jones broke down, saying, “It’s with a great amount of shame that I stand before you and tell you that I have betrayed your trust. I have been dishonest and you have every right to be angry with me. I have let my family down, I have let my country down, and I have let myself down.”
On the day of her guilty plea, prosecutors said a 2003 search warrant at BALCO yielded evidence connected to Jones and former coach Trevor Graham. BALCO is the San Francisco lab that has also been linked to pro baseball players’ use of steroids.
Understandably, Jones was devastated by the sentence:
“As everyone can imagine, I’m very disappointed today. But as I stood in front of all of you for years in victory, I stand in front of you today. I stand for what is right. I respect the judge’s order, and I truly hope that people will learn from my mistakes.”
With the advent of legendary pitcher Roger Clemens’ name coming up in a recent probe of steroids in baseball, the whole steroids mess just keeps getting messier. No doubt there will be more admired athletes such as Jones and Clemens being accused in the months to come, with those being fingered at best being publicly embarrassed and at worst facing jail time.
While in a free country it should be up to each individual to decide what to put into his or her own body, when it comes to athletics, ingesting steroids gives an unfair edge, is cheating, and cheapens competition. Perhaps those who choose to use steroids should just compete against each other, and those who are clean can do likewise. It would certainly make baseball interesting, although I think an ‘all-steroid league’ would quickly grow tiresome. How many 700-foot home runs can one watch?