Sometimes you read something in the newspaper or hear it on television and it's just incredible. Honestly, it's so tempting to just let the moment pass. Marion Jones, again? Still?
But when there's such a serious distortion of the truth, it's imperative that the record be set straight. And repeatedly in recent days such revisionism has been at work, most pointedly in a lengthy interview she gave the Associated Press and in a Los Angeles Daily News column.
Both deserve special scrutiny because here is the truth: Marion Jones is a liar.
That's the prism through which Marion Jones ought to be viewed. She lied, and lied, and lied, and she spent time in federal custody for it, and she still can't -- or won't -- fully come clean.
It's sad, really, because she does have a message for kids, which -- as she tries to sell her new book and as the promotion gears up for a new ESPN documentary about her -- is why she's back in the newspapers and on TV.
Don't make the "mistake" I did -- that's her message, and that was the exact word she used in an appearance a few days ago on ABC's "Good Morning America." But she didn't make a "mistake." That suggests a one-time thing. Marion Jones lied, repeatedly, about taking performance-enhancing drugs and she has yet to disclose the full extent of what she did, and why, and how.
Until she does that, her advice is as empty as a howling wind.
At issue in the AP story is what Jones said. In the LA Daily News piece it's mostly what filmmaker John Singleton has to say about the matter.
In the AP interview, Jones recounted the moment on Nov. 4, 2003 when she lied to federal authorities about whether she had taken performance-enhancing drugs.
Shown a vial by investigating agent Jeff Novitzky, she realized it held a designer steroid called "the clear" that she had taken before the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
She denied it.
"I made a decision that took less than 45, 30 seconds," she told the AP, "to lie, to lie to them. And that was my crime."
Except that's not the extent of her criminal conduct.
She lied several times that day in 2003, as she herself says in the book.
Jones lied to federal authorities about her role in a check-fraud scheme, too, on Aug. 2, 2006, and again on Sept. 5, 2006, according to the government's sentencing memorandum in the case against her. The AP story responsibly and credibly mentions that facet of the case.
The truth is that it took those 2003 and 2006 exchanges with authorities for someone to hold her accountable in a way that ultimately would impact her liberty interest.
She had been lying to the rest of us for years.
"I have always been unequivocal in my opinion," she wrote in her 2004 autobiography, and in big red capital letters. "I am against performance-enhancing drugs. I have never taken them and I never will take them."
This week to the AP, about her use of performance-enhancing drugs: "Sure, it was my choice to take it without asking any questions but it was never my intent to take it."
"I've openly acknowledged that I personally educated her about the use of growth hormone and watched her inject the drug right in front of me," Victor Conte, the central figure in the BALCO scandal, wrote in a piece published Sunday in the New York Daily News.
Here, in a Yahoo! Sports story, is grand jury testimony from Jones' ex-husband, the shot-putter C.J. Hunter:
"Prosecutor: Did Miss Jones know what this was, this Clear?
"Hunter: Yeah, I mean, she knew before I knew ...
"Prosecutor: Did she ever refer to it as flaxseed oil?
"Hunter: No, Victor made a comment, and I think Trevor [Graham, Jones' former coach] made the comment, that if anybody ever asks you what it is, say flaxseed oil, because I guess it just looks like flaxseed oil."
Jones, to the AP: "You talk about a tiny, little lie, and it gets you here," meaning in custody. "There's nothing tiny about not doing the right thing. It can really have you land in some of the worst places you could ever imagine."
A "tiny, little lie"?
Again from the government's sentencing memorandum:
"The defendant's use of performance-enhancing drugs encompassed numerous drugs (THG, EPO, human growth hormone) and delivery systems (sublingual drops, subcutaneous injections) over a substantial course of time. Her use of these substances was goal-oriented, that is, it was designed to further her athletic accomplishments and financial career. Her false statements to the [investigating] agent were focused, hoping not only to deflect the attention of the investigation away from herself, but also to secure the gains achieved by her use of the performance-enhancing substances in the first place. The false statements to the [investigating] agent were the culmination of a long series of public denials by the defendant, often accompanied by baseless attacks on those accusing her. regarding her use of these substances.
"The context of the defendant's use of performance-enhancing substances, as detailed in the documents seized from BALCO, shows a concentrated, organized, long-term effort to use these substances for her personal gain, a scenario wholly inconsistent with anything other than her denials being calculated lies to agents who were investigating the same conduct."
In sentencing her to six months in custody, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas emphasized that what Jones did was not a "momentary lapse in judgment or a one-time mistake but instead a repetition of an attempt to break the law."
When she came out of the courthouse nearly nearly three years ago, "I felt so sad for what she was going through," the film director John Singleton said.
Singleton's remarks appear in a column written by the LA Daily News' Tom Hoffarth. The column revolves around a documentary that Singleton prepared on Jones for ESPN's "30 for 30" series, due to air Tuesday.
After Hoffarth quotes Singleton as feeling "so sad" upon seeing Jones on the courthouse steps, he writes it's immediately after Jones had "just been told she'd have to serve the maximum sentence of six years in a federal prison …"
Six months. Not six years.
The column goes on from there to quote Singleton at length.
"I think she was in denial," Singleton said in reference to Jones' use of performance-enhancing drugs, "but when she was using them, they weren't illegal."
For starters: Did Singleton ask Jones whether she had a prescription for, say, human growth hormone?
If Singleton's reference in is only to "the clear," there's this, from a Conte manuscript, and see how it tweaks a point in the government's sentencing memo:
"There were actually two different species of The Clear from 2000 through 2003. The first was the anabolic steroid norbolethone, which was used successfully through the 2000 Sydney Olympics, helping Marion Jones win five medals that year, including three golds. It was only when I found out that the testers had identified strange metabolites in the urine samples of some of the athletes associated with BALCO at the Sydney Olympics that we moved on to the second designer steroid THG."
In connection with Jones' sentencing, Novitzky filed an affidavit that said a BALCO ledger included "multiple notations" for the "Marion J" entry "indicating the use of both norbolethone and THG during the time period from September of 2000 through June of 2001."
This much is true: neither norbolethone nor THG were illegal when Jones was using "the clear." Of course not. The entire point of using a designer steroid is that authorities don't know about it, and thus can't test for it until they do; similarly, you can't list something as illegal if you don't know it exists.
So that's the Singleton argument? That Jones used a performance-enhancer that at the time was undetectable, and because it was undetectable that should absolve her of culpability?
Both norbolethone and THG were included in 2004 amendments to the 1990 federal law that regulates certain steroids.
Back to Singleton: "That's the whole thing that rubs me wrong about steroids versus performance-enhancing drugs. It's not like you get some kind of shot in the arm that allows you to fly like Superman and stop moving trains. None of what she achieved wasn't without training."
The central reason an elite athlete takes performance-enhancing drugs is that they allow him or her to train longer and harder. As Jones herself said, in open court, on the day in October, 2007, that she pleaded guilty to lying about her doping, she "felt different, trained more intensely" and experienced "faster recovery and better times' while using "the clear."
"If you're going to be real, this goes beyond Marion Jones," Singleton said. "Nothing has happened to Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds, and no one is going to take away their achievements."
Nothing has happened to Clemens or Bonds? Each has been indicted.
Singleton: "Are people going to take down Lance Armstrong for as much as he's done for the sport and helped people afflicted with cancer?"
We don't know yet what the future might hold for Armstrong.
Singleton: "But they put her in jail? They put the black woman in jail. I mean, let's be real about it."
That assertion is as irresponsible as it is unsupported.
Troy Ellerman, the lawyer who leaked Bonds' grand jury testimony to the San Francisco Chronicle, served 16 months behind bars.
To say that Jones went to prison because she's black is like saying Ellerman went, and for a longer time, because he's white. Both are ridiculous.
The absurdity of the assertion that Jones went to prison because she's black is further highlighted when surveying other cases that, like Jones', grew out of the BALCO affair. Those brought into court have been black, white, male and female -- everyone from Bonds to Conte to Graham to cyclist Tammy Thomas.
In a thoroughly unrelated case, Martha Stewart served five months in custody. She is not black. Lying to the feds is an equal-opportunity disaster.
They didn't put Marion Jones in prison because of what she looks like. They put Marion Jones in prison because of what she did. Marion Jones is a liar, and she -- and we, everyone with an interest in sports -- would be better off if she would come completely clean.
And that is the truth.