The fall of Marion Jones was no surprise to those who follow sports news closely. The track and field superstar had been slowly buried under a mountain of circumstantial evidence over the last few several years.
No matter if the recent news of her admission of using illegal performance-enhancing drugs was a shock or not, there are both obvious and not-so-obvious lessons to be learned from this sad end to a remarkable career.
The harsh lesson of this scandal is that nothing meaningful has been done to clean up doping in sports. If it is even possible, it will be far more difficult than most officials and athletes are claiming publicly.
Remember, Jones was only caught because a disgruntled coach mailed a drug-filled syringe to track administrators so that they could analyse it. She was using a drug that doping officials did not even know existed.
Informed insiders confidently state that many athletes in many sports are using designer steroids right now that the testers are unaware of. It’s pretty hard to find something when you don’t know what you are looking for. The fact that Jones never failed a drug test speaks volumes about how far ahead the cheaters are now.
It is disturbing but true; if not for a disagreement over money with a former coach, Jones almost certainly would still be the darling of the sports world today.
Her Olympic medals stripped, her finances reportedly in ruins and her name forever tainted, Jones will be remembered as a sad and cautionary tale for athletes to ponder.
When Jones visited the Cayman Islands a few years ago, her message to our children was ‘work hard and you may end up like Marion Jones’. Now her message is written in headlines around world: Cheat and you may end up like Marion Jones.
Sports, for better or worse, are a reflection of who we really are. Within sports and beyond sports, we are capable of greatness, yes, but we are also just one temptation away from tragedy.
The best, one can reasonably hope, that will come from the story of Marion Jones is that some athletes who are tempted to cheat may think twice before plunging that fateful needle into their flesh. Maybe, just maybe, they will remember the tears that rolled down the face of the world’s greatest female athlete as she confessed her crimes and lies, and decide to win or lose within the rules of the game.