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October 10, 2007

Guilt by Association

“And Sally and I did not know what to say –
Should we tell her the things that went on there that day?
Should we tell her about it? Now what should we do?
Well … what would YOU do if your mother asked you?”

- Dr Seuss, from The Cat in the Hat

Everyone says that honesty is the best policy … but what if you end up getting screwed by the honesty of others?

That’s the question that faces a handful of female athletes in light of the Marion Jones saga – at least, presumably so. And the answers, as you can imagine, aren’t nearly as easy as we’d like them to be.

By now, nearly everyone has weighed in on Jones’s staggering fall from grace. I’m not interested in exploring the whole issue of drugs and athletics anymore – after all, I beat that horse to death in a series of posts last year.

The angle that intrigues me more is the fate of Jones’s fellow relay runners – in the 4x 100m and the 4x 400m events - who won gold medals with her assistance at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. This week, Jones returned her medals to the US Olympic Committee.

All of which creates a dilemma for her former teammates – as detailed by the Associated Press:

[USOC Executive Officer] Jim Scherr and USOC Chairman Peter Uberroth both have encouraged the other Americans to give back their medals.

Jearl Miles-Clark, Monique Hennagan, Tasha Colander-Richardson and Andrea Anderson all won golds as part of the 1600m relay. Chryste Gaines, Torri Edwards, Nanceen Perry and Passion Richardson were on the 400m relay team.

Both Edwards and Gaines have served doping bans since the 2000 Olympics.

“It’s our opinion that when any sporting event is won unfairly, it’s completely tarnished and should be returned. The relay events were won unfairly.” Uberroth said. “It’s very unfortunate, but your result involved cheating, so the result is unfair to the other athletes of the world.”

The wording is deliberately vague as to whether the women will be forced to turn in their medals, which means that – at this point at least – the USOC is making an ethical appeal to the women involved. And while it’s not unfounded to believe that the other women on the relay were using drugs, there is also a distinct possibility that at least one innocent woman is being asked to relinquish an Olympic gold medal, more than seven years after the fact.

For just a moment, put yourself in the place of Jones’s relay teammates, and consider the following scenarios you now face:

1. You are innocent of any wrongdoing, and are being asked to voluntarily forfeit the greatest achievement of your career, one that you spent upwards of 20 years working toward. Think of how rewarding it felt to earn your first marathon or Ironman finisher’s medal, multiply that feeling by about 100, and then think of how you’d feel seven years from now if somebody told you that your accomplishment was “tarnished.”

2. You are guilty of doping, but the main reason you did it was to level the playing field because you knew for certain that many of your competitors were doing so – in which case, the result wasn’t unfair to the other athletes at all. The only difference between your team and the Jamacians, Bahamians, Greeks and Russians is that one of your girls decided to finally come clean – even though she never actually tested positive. Forfeiting the gold medal doesn’t by any means assure that it will be awarded to a clean team of athletes.

Like anything else in this drug conundrum, the more aspects you consider, the more complicated the situation becomes. And in the same manner that I finished my series of drug articles last summer, I don’t have any simple answers for the dilemma. So I’ll make like Dr Seuss, and finish with a series of questions instead.

If you were a relay runner, and asked to give back your gold medal from the Sydney Games…

Would you know what to say? Would you tell of the things that went on there that day?
Would you tell us about it? Now what should you do?

Well … what would YOU do if the USOC asked you?


Thomas 10/10/07, 5:04 AM  

The mere fact that both Gaines and Edwards have served doping suspensions since that day speaks volumes. While it may be possible that one or two of the other American athletes were actually clean, personally I doubt it.

That leaves the runner from other countries. Were they clean? Definitely not all of them. Some of them? I guess so - probably the ones who came in embarrassingly late.

Does that have any effect on the front runners? No.

I think they should all have to give back their medals. The excuse that the other ones were just as dirty is a poor one. Cheating is cheating, and even if everybody else was cheating, it's still cheating.

stronger 10/10/07, 7:29 AM  

The medal is an object. The integrity has already been stripped away.

21stCenturyMom 10/10/07, 8:57 AM  

If I knew I had not used drugs I would be very, very angry. If I did use drugs.... I don't know what I'd do because I would never have felt good about a win that was gained unfairly.

They are all tarnished as Stronger pointed out. The medal doesn't much matter any more but I do think they should give them back. Let some other cheater wear the cloak of guilt.

Annette 10/10/07, 9:32 AM  

What a mess! I have to say that I was quite bummed about Marion Jones. I've always been a big fan. I wanted to believe the best. As for her teammates. I can't imagine what's going on in their heads right now. I'm glad I'm not having to make that decision. If only people thought more about others than themselves, then this could have been avoided.

Nancy Toby 10/10/07, 3:36 PM  

Turns out one of the teammates isn't crazy about the idea of giving back her medal.....

Coach Tammy 10/10/07, 7:14 PM  

What Stronger said.

What would I do? I'd stick my fingers in my ears and say "LA LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU GO AWAY LA LA LA LA"


Spokane Al 10/10/07, 8:22 PM  

Your point #2 is merely more doper rationalization and part of what causes the continuation and expansion of this sordid mess. I vote for following Dr Suess.

angie's pink fuzzy 10/10/07, 9:04 PM  

yikes, I don't know. But it'd sure be damn hard to give it up!!!

Dying Water Buffalo 10/20/07, 2:31 PM  

All life lessons should reference Dr. Seuss!

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