IT IS ONE OF the few columns I've written that still bugs me.
Not because I was wrong. I've been wrong about plenty of stuff; that doesn't bother me. As I always say, "My columns aren't telling you that I am correct, just telling you what I believe."
The column ran July 6, 2007.
The headline: "What price do you put on innocence?"
The deck head: "Jones never found guilty of doping, but suspicion has left her nearly broke."
If you haven't figured it out, my subject was Olympic sprinter Marion Jones, who at that time was still claiming innocence against accusations of using performance-enhancing drugs and had spent a good deal of her money defending herself.
Turns out Jones should have just saved the cash. Just a few months later, she admitted that she had indeed taken PEDs and had lied to two grand juries about it.
I felt duped. I had covered Jones' story from her five-medal performance at the 2000 Olympics through the 2004 Games. I sat through several interview sessions in which she blatantly lied to our collective faces.
It wasn't just that Jones was a good liar; she might be the best that I've ever met in a business (sports) where lying is often considered the strategic dissemination of misinformation.
It was because I was naive and got suckered in.
I wanted to believe Jones' argument that she had passed all the drug tests that so many others had failed.
I used to have that argument all the time with fellow journalists who were much more cynical about PEDs. My stance was that if you can't believe the results of the things that are supposed to provide the evidence of guilt or innocence, then what was the point of believing anything? Why cover the competition if we are to immediately assume that the results are really just a case of knowing how to beat the system?
My position has changed. I'm not going on some witch hunt, where I question every great athlete or feat. But I'll admit I have a bit of cynicism about everything in sports now.
As a fellow cancer survivor, I'd love to continue to give Lance Armstrong the benefit of the doubt. The work he has done to promote cancer awareness and the positive impact he has had on so many people makes you want to hope there was nothing nefarious about his success.
But with yet another former teammate alleging that Armstrong did indeed use PEDs, it's virtually impossible to ignore the circumstantial evidence. As Jones showed, Armstrong saying he passed all the tests is no longer a solid enough argument.
For the record, Jones had one positive test in her career, but her "B" sample then tested negative, officially clearing her of doping charges.
The saddest thing is that performance-enhancing drugs have so infiltrated sports that we are getting to the point where we simply accept them.
The credibility of the baseball record book has been ripped to shreds before our eyes and many of us are saying that as long as we qualify everything with an asterisk, the situation is fine. We'll just call it the Steroid Era like we had the Dead Ball Era, as if those two things were comparable.
Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing was voted the 2009 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. When it was later announced that Cushing would be suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season for testing positive for PEDs, there was a revote among the league's media members. Cushing still got the most votes.
I read Mike Bianchi's column in the Orlando Sentinel challenging the assertion of NBA commissioner David Stern that the league doesn't have a big PED issue. Bianchi pointed out that the lack of positive test in the NBA could be related to the fact that the collective bargaining agreement precludes offseason testing. Only the stupidest NBA player would still have juice in his system when he knew the exact date the testing will commence.
Sports aren't just games. They are big business, and with millions of dollars at stake, the lure of PEDs can be intoxicating.
The sporting leagues make an effort, but the evidence continues to show their testing procedures are behind the curve.
I didn't want to have to watch sporting events with an eye of cynicism. I wanted to believe that the drug testing would allow us to discern the legitimate performances from those that were chemically enhanced.
But I am not naive anymore.
Marion Jones changed everything when she staunchly defended herself with negative test after negative test, all while lying through her teeth.
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