Monday, August 21, 2006

Ode to Joy – The Imminent Fall of Queen Marion

Several weeks ago decided it was time to create a new category – “Sports & Society”. While in the planning stages for several months, the day it was announced Tour de France winner Floyd Landis had tested positive for the use of performance-enhancing drugs, was proof positive we needed a category to deal with the damage that was being done to the image of the sports world.

The aftermath of the events surrounding Landis’ positive test made the decision easy. SBN needed a category that could help SBN’s readers and subscribers find the latest news, reports and issues that focused on the ongoing crisis of faith the sports industry was facing – we’re going to put all the news that focuses on the “consciousness of today’s sports world”.

SBN’s pledge from the day we published our first DailyDose on May 23, 1998 was to offer a greater understanding on the inner business workings of the $500 billion sports industry. Eight plus years later, more then ever, being able to go inside the thought process behind the behavior of athletes, teams and executives how that directly impacts the business of sports is more important then ever before for an industry voice committed to the business of sports.

A standard clause included in every athlete endorsement contract is a “morality clause” The morals clause has become an essential component of endorsement contracts in professional sports. It is a form of termination clause, whereby it enumerates a variety of specific reasons for termination to protect the endorser's interest in its image or the image of its products that are affiliated with the athlete.

Late Friday night, The Washington Post’s Amy Shipley, first broke the news that Marion Jones had tested positive for the use of EPO, a performance-enhancing drug. Jones reportedly tested positive at the United States Track and Field Championships in June. If her B Test comes back positive, Jones is facing a two-year ban from competition. 30-years old Marion Jones’ career will come to a sad ending, but at same time what was always Marion Jones destiny as a world-class athlete, caught in a web of her own lies.

Jones may have stunned the world at the 2000 Athens Olympics when she won five Olympic medals (three gold and two bronze the most track medals ever won by a woman at an Olympic Games) – but she will now be remembered for someone who cheated her way to the Olympic podium. Her success was nothing more then a direct result of the chemicals she put in her body to help her run faster and jump further.

C.J. Hunter, Jones first husband, and a former world class shot-putter on June 8 in Raleigh, N.C., and a follow-up phone call a week later, Hunter told Internal Revenue Service investigators that Jones had used banned substances prior to, during and after the Sydney Olympics.

"Hunter stated that he saw Jones inject herself with EPO (this again was back at the Sydney Olympics and is the same drug she tested positive for in June)," IRS agent Erwin Rogers wrote. "Jones would inject herself in the front waist line area slightly underneath the skin. Graham instructed Jones to inject herself in this area. Initially, Hunter injected Jones because Jones did not want to inject herself in this location."

“C.J. Hunter has had an ax to grind ever since Marion Jones ended their marriage,'' attorney Joseph Burton said in a New York Times report. ''Fortunately, Hunter's efforts to exact his revenge by telling lies to the government are directly contradicted by the statements made to the government investigators of Marion Jones's former coach, who has supported everything Marion has said: that she never used performance-enhancing drugs. C.J. Hunter has made false statements to federal officials, and we call upon federal authorities to investigate Hunter's conduct, as it is a crime to lie to federal investigators.''

Hunter. Hunter was tossed off the 2000 United Sates Olympic team days before he was scheduled to compete in the shot put competition at the Games after he had failed four drug tests. While Jones came to her husband’s defense during a press conference held during the Sydney Games, Jones kicked her husband to the curb shortly after Sydney – divorcing Hunter saying she couldn’t be connected to someone who had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

She then began a relationship with sprinter Tim Montgomery who in 2002 and 2003 was called, “The World’s Fastest Man”. Montgomery has also been linked to the BALCO scandal. While Jones and Montgomery remains a couple and have had a son together, Jones was steadfast in claiming her innocence – saying time and time again she had never used performance-enhancing drugs.

Shortly after Conte was arrested and indicted for the distribution of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in May 2004, Conte spoke with ESPN’s The Magazine, and made some pretty strong accusations about Jones use of performance-enhancing drugs.

“On April 21, 2001, I was sitting in an Embassy Suites hotel room in Covina, Calif., about a foot away from Marion Jones. The next day, she was going to try to break the world record in the 300 meters. It was her first competition of the 2001 season, and we were both excited.

“We'd had a lot of success since the previous August, after I'd arranged for her to receive various performance enhancers, including The Clear, a steroid that later became famous as THG, and nutritional supplements. She was on all of it at the 2000 Games in Sydney, when she won three gold medals and two bronzes. I tell you this knowing Marion passed a lie detector test saying it's not true. All that shows me is lie detectors don't work.

“She came to my room for a new piece of equipment I'd brought, a NovoPen injector that looks like a Sharpie and can be used to inject human growth hormone. I needed to teach her how to use it. Marion wasn't the least bit nervous; she's always in control. She pulled the spandex of her bicycle shorts above her right thigh. She dialed up a dose of four-and-a-half units of growth hormone and injected it into her quadriceps.

“Marion won the race the next day but didn't break the record, which has stood since 1984. I wasn't surprised. Back then, before year-round drug testing, sprinters could use as much as they liked, as long as they tapered off just before a race. No one can get away with that today.

“I liked Marion and I don't think she was doing anything differently than anyone else. But I do know she was using the very best stuff. I made sure of it,” Conte told ESPN’s The Magazine in 2004.

On April 24, 2004 The New York Times reported that a check for $7,350, previously mentioned in a government affidavit in the Balco steroids case, was written to the founder of Balco (Conte) from the bank account of the Olympic sprint champion Marion Jones according to two people familiar with bank records in the case. Jones lawyers didn’t deny the check hadn’t come from her account, in a classic case of double talk – suggested Jones hadn’t signed any checks issued to Victor Conte.

When reports surfaced a month later, in May 2004 that the United States Olympic Committee wanted to ban Jones and a number of other American athletes from participating in the Athens Games, a kangaroo court ensued, with Jones legal team saying they would sue the USOC if Jones was banned from the Athens Games.

On June 8, 2004 the United States Olympic Committee announced: Tim Montgomery, the world's fastest man; Chryste Gaines, a two-time Olympic medalist in the 4x100-meter relay; Alvin Harrison, the 2000 Olympic silver medalist at 400 meters; and Michelle Collins, the world indoor champion at 200 meters in 2003 would not be allowed to represent the United States of America at the Athens Games.

''I know U.S.A.D.A. has more documents on some athletes than others,'' said Cameron Myler, the lawyer for Gaines. But, she added: ''If the U.S.A.D.A. doesn't bring a case against Marion, it brings into question the credibility and authenticity of the documents they intend to rely on. If this is not enough to bring charges against Marion, why should it be different for other athletes, given that the level of evidence is the same.''

Jones lawyers were adamant; if the USOC announced that Jones couldn’t compete in Athens they would sue the USOC. After winning three gold medals and two bronze medals at the Sydney Games, Jones collected tens of millions of dollars in endorsement opportunities and appearance fees. Marion Jones had the financial wherewithal to sue the USOC. She had all the money to attempt to sue the USOC for tens of millions of dollars. Her income from endorsements in the four years between the Sydney Games and the Athens Games was estimated at between $2 million and $3 million per year. Jones earned even more money from appearance fees at track meets.

''U.S.A.D.A. is almost in an untenable position,'' Charles Yesalis, a Penn State professor and steroids expert told The New York Times, referring to Jones. ''If you pull her off the team, the enemies of America will say, 'See, I told you so; your golden girl was a druggie.' If you leave her on the team and in seven or eight months find out she is dirty, then they will say, 'See, you sent dirty athletes to Athens.'''

Jones represented the United States of America at the Athens Games, a complete failure at every level. Jones embarrassed herself, her sport, the United States of America and what the Olympics represented by falling flat on her face in Athens The media scrutiny was unbelievable during the Games, but that paled in comparison after Conte made his comments to ESPN, 20/20 and other media in December 2004.

On December 15, 2004 The New York Times Jere Longman reported that Jones had filed a lawsuit against Victor Conte in United States District Court in San Francisco and seeking $25 million, charges that Conte developed a vendetta against Jones after she refused to enter into a professional relationship with him and declined to endorse a legal dietary supplement called ZMA, which Balco manufactured. Conte was never involved in any aspect of Jones's training, the lawsuit stated.

Jones, who might have considered it was in her best interest to retire, instead chose to continue running after she filed her lawsuit against Conte.

Jones tried to compete at the 2005 United States Track and Field Championships at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. A miserable failure as she had been throughout 2004, Jones pulled out of the event that served as the qualifying meet for the American team that would represent the United States at the 2005 in Helsinki, Finland, last August. Clearly Marion Jones career had come to an end after a terrible 2005 season. She was no longer in demand; the track community had shunned their backs on the athlete who five years earlier galvanized the world at the Sydney Games.

Jones ‘team’ was quick to react suggesting her failure was directly related to her pregnancy and that Marion Jones had every intention of competing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

''Marion Jones will come back and be her old self,'' Steve Riddick, her coach, said in a telephone interview last summer with the New York Times from Carson, Calif., where the national championships were being held.

''She has a future,'' the sprinter Lamont Johnson told the Times last summer. ''She's going through a lot right now. She'll be O.K. once she gets past that little business'' of the doping accusations.

Ato Boldon of Trinidad and Tobago, an Olympic medalist in 1996 and 2000, made it clear twelve months ago that he believed Jones was capable of a comeback.

''Nobody's going to miss her, at least this year,'' Boldon said. ''Her performances aren't good enough. She needs to fix it by taking pressure off of herself. She definitely has a chance to come back next year.''

Jones won several track meets before June’s United States Track Championships, held in Indianapolis. Jones did compete in Indianapolis – winning the 100 meter women’s sprint, telling the media after she had won.

"I have a passion for the sport," she said at the time. "I have a passion to compete, and nobody's going to take that away from me."

Several runners and associated track athletes reacted to the news of Jones positive test in this Associated Press report

Allyson Felix, the world 200-meter champion and silver medalist at the Athens Olympics in 2004, said she was dismayed when she found out Jones failed an initial doping test at the U.S. championships in June.

"There are a lot of young girls who are coming up in athletics, like I was, and a lot of them look up to Marion, so I do hope it's not true," Felix told the Associated Press after winning the 200 in 22.19 seconds at an international team meet in Birmingham on Sunday.

"It's unfortunate and it’s a tough time for the sport to have two such big blows like that, it's disappointing," Felix said. "If anyone runs fast, there's always going to be speculation and it's frustrating that's the case.

"Most of us who are out there running are running hard, and running clean.""When I was younger, coming up I didn't realize [drugs were] there. I think I was being naive, but this is a wake-up call," Felix said. "I feel it's our responsibility to stay in a positive light to young athletes so I just keep racing feeling like that."
She's not afraid of any backlash or dip in American track and field as a result of what has happened with Jones and Gatlin.

"Is there a backlash? I would think so, though it's happened before, but with two of the biggest names of the sport involved it should be interesting to see how it plays out," she said.

It was at that event where Jones allegedly has tested positive for EPO, a banned substance, erythropoietin (EPO), is an endurance-boosting drug,

After the United States Championships Jones continued her comeback running in three major meets in July, posting times she hadn’t managed since her glory days, all of that ended on Friday.

Jones reaction Friday was immediate – she’s made herself invisible over the weekend but withdrew from a track meet she was scheduled to appear in, in Zurich Friday. Jones "received a phone call from the United States this morning and left for personal reasons," Hansjorg Wirz, the meet organizer and head of the European Athletics Association, told the Associated Press, adding that she was already on a plane home when she called to withdraw.

Her coach Steve Riddick told's Mike Fish by phone from Norfolk, Va., Saturday morning that he was surprised that she was not running.

"From what I gather it is some personal family matters. I'm not sure if her mother is ill. I know her son is OK. Charlie [Wells, Jones' manager] says it is a personal family matter," Riddick said. "Me, I'm a two-year-old coach with her so I don't go too far into detail.

"I haven't talked to her," he said. "I know when she landed, she just sent me a little note that said, 'I just landed. I'll give you a call later. I'm OK.' That is all she said. I'm just the coach. If she wanted to tell me more she will. I don't push it. I really don't have a clue."

Jones $25 million defamation lawsuit filed against Conte almost two years ago is lost somewhere in the California court system where it was filed. Given the events of the last 48 hours, the likelihood is the lawsuit will never see the light of day.

If Jones’ B sample is positive, she not only faces a two-year ban and the end of her career, she will be labeled the greatest fraud in the history of track. That may be somewhat of an overstatement but when you consider how she got rid of her husband when he was in trouble, after she threatened to sue the United States Olympic Committee, and after she filed what may end up being a bogus lawsuit against Conte – Marion Jones is not only a fraud, not only someone who demanded the public trust and it appears may have been lying for almost a decade, is someone who was never worthy of any of the respect she was given. The end has arrived for Marion Jones, time to do to her to receive what you did to so many others – kick her to the curb.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: The New York Times, ESPN The Magazine