Prediction: the Russians will be at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games, and as Russians.
Assertion: the Russians should be at the PC 2018 Games, and as Russians.
Rationale: the central principle of the Olympic movement is inclusion.
To consider the absurdity of what track and field is considering with regard to its records, let’s turn to baseball. The comparison is apt. Both sports are heaven for stats-freak geeks.
Who holds the Major League Baseball record for most home runs in a career and, as well, most home runs in a season?
Hey, in both categories it’s that guy Barry Bonds. He hit 762 over his career. In the 2001 season, he slammed 73.
Now, does baseball say that Bonds leads the charts for guys whose hat size mysteriously, peculiarly got way, way, way bigger when he played for San Francisco as compared to the years he played in Pittsburgh? Not a chance. Bonds sits there, at No. 1.
Look at No. 4 on the all-time homer list: Alex Rodriguez, with 696. Rodriguez is an admitted user of performance-enhancing drugs. Who’s No. 4? Rodriguez.
People: what happened, happened.
This is the thing about history. It happened. You can’t say in 2017 — whether it’s baseball, track and field, tiddlywinks, whatever — that something didn’t, or arbitrarily propose new rules, like the European Athletics Records Credibility Project Team did on Sunday (the report was made public Monday) in proposing reforms that would wipe out more than half of Olympic-discipline world records from the books.
The European report is being forwarded to track and field's international governing body, the IAAF, which is said to be giving it serious consideration.
To be clear: the contributors to the European committee deserve considered respect for effort. They are good people and they mean well. Officials deserve extra marks for including Gianni Merlo, the longtime Italian sports writer and current president of the International Sports Press Association, in their deliberations. Awesome -- we’re not just running dogs!
As was articulated in the charge to the committee, track and field is purportedly beset by doping issues.
But that is not track and field’s central problem.
Baseball has had huge doping problems, too, and baseball is thriving. Track and field is wallowing. So that makes for a pretty easy conclusion: doping is not track and field’s central problem
Instead, track and field suffers from a multitude of other issues. This is what the very bright minds on that committee, and others around the world who care about track and field, should be focusing on.
— Track and field is a professional sport. But the way it presents itself, by almost every metric, is sorely inconsistent, especially when compared against a wide range of other professional products. It is competing against those other entities for sponsor and audience attention and dollars. Pick it: European soccer, American basketball or football. Whatever. Now, how does track and field stack up?
— The best athletes don’t race against each other enough. Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt maybe race each other at perhaps one, maybe two, meets each year. Compare: the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees play each other 19 times each season. Why are the NBA playoffs must-see TV? Because the teams play each other every other day for two solid months, April to June. Real Madrid and Barcelona play each other all the time. In NFL football, Dallas and Washington play at least twice each season. This is a no-brainer, people!
— Track and field is sport at its essence: run, jump, throw. Yet for the average spectator, a track meet is bewildering. It’s confusing. There’s too much going on, often at the same time. And this is an awful secret: a lot of very serious track fans make like super-snobs, which is a complete turn-off to the would-be newbie fan, who just wants to know what’s going on, not get lectured about “negative splits” as if it’s Fermi and Einstein and physics at Princeton. Ugh.
— Meet presentation has barely evolved since the 1970s. There are some genuinely good track announcers out there but the PA systems at many fields are high-school quality, if that.
— Music? Lights? Fan-friendly experience? What?
— The world championships, which this year will be held in London, run from August 4-13. This is awesome for the niche of super-committed track fans, and organizers will justly point out that — just like the 2012 Olympics — the event will be sold out. But a 10-day run is a l-o-n-g deal. The U.S. track nationals are only four days. Why do the worlds run to 10?
Why, with all of that, is track and field obsessed with its records?
From the European committee report:
“… The power of any record depends on its credibility.
“If there is suspicion that a record was not achieved fairly or the conditions were somehow not correct, people become skeptical or worse they ignore it.”
Look again at baseball.
Here, for easy reference, are baseball’s top 10 single-season home run leaders. For fun, identify how many may have, you know, taken something stronger than an aspirin and those you absolutely, positively, indisputably, unequivocally know with 110 percent certainty are cleaner than Mr. Clean:
1. Bonds, 73, 2001
2. Mark McGwire, 70, 1998
3. Sammy Sosa, 66, 1998
4. McGwire, 65, 1999
5. Sosa, 64, 2001
6. Sosa, 63, 1999
7. Roger Maris, 61, 1961
8. Babe Ruth, 60, 1927
9. Ruth, 59, 1921
10. Jimmie Foxx, 58, 1932
Hank Greenberg, 58, 1938
Ryan Howard, 58, 2006
McGwire, 58, 1997
Also for fun: name the year Bonds gets elected to the Hall of Fame. Bonds landed on 53.8 percent of ballots this year; that’s up from 44.3 percent in 2016; he has five years of balloting left; historical trends suggest that players who get at least 50 percent almost always end up in the Hall by the end of their eligibility.
Reality suggests that whatever you believe about Bonds’ hat size, 73 and 762 are the numbers and he’s headed for the Hall of Fame. The relevant audience: for those who are not aware, voters for the Hall are from the baseball writers association, meaning the most skeptical running dogs themselves.
If more than half of the skeptics think those numbers are credible, and those cranky skeptics increasingly are proving willing to vote for the guy’s Hall of Fame enshrinement, he is — and the records themselves are — hardly being ignored, right?
Which holds considerable parallels for track and field, and the errant proposal to get rid of half of track and field’s records.
For one, the committee didn’t do the appropriate due diligence.
They did not, before announcing it to the world, secure the buy-in of athletes. Predictably, some of the world’s biggest stars from prior generations — the long jumper Mike Powell, the marathoner Paula Radcliffe, the middle-distance star Wilson Kipketer — were justifiably outraged. So, too, the families of former stars, including Al Joyner, the husband of U.S. sprint star Florence Griffith-Joyner.
“That’s dishonoring my family,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “I will fight tooth and nail. I will find every legal opportunity that I can find. I will fight it like I am training for an Olympic gold medal.”
Asked after a seminar Wednesday at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles if she supported the European proposal, Allyson Felix, the nine-time Olympic medalist, said, "I guess I'm not."
She had said a moment earlier, "You don't want to take away a clean record from a clean athlete. I don't know how you solve that issue."
Further, the basis for the recommendation of this would-be policy rests on a fallacy — that “new” records can be deemed reliable because athletes who set them will be “clean” because they will have passed a certain number of doping tests.
A little background:
Samples are now kept for up to 10 years. The IAAF began storing samples in 2005. Current world records that don’t meet the new guidelines would no longer be called a “world record” but would remain on an “all time” list, according to the European proposal now off to the IAAF.
“Do we really believe,” Radcliffe wrote in a lengthy Twitter post, “a record set in 2015 is totally clean and one in 1995 not?”
Radcliffe’s opposition is particularly notable. She is close to IAAF president Seb Coe.
Indisputably, technology has advanced since October 6, 1985, when East Germany’s Marita Koch set the women’s 400-meter world record, 47.6, running in Lane One in Canberra, Australia.
But this is ever a cat-and-mouse game, and to build on Radcliffe’s notion, who is to say that someone somewhere is not using some 2017 variant of THG — the designer steroid at the core of the BALCO scandal 15 years ago. You can’t test for something if you don’t know it exists. Again, logic.
This is the flaw with reliance on any system that turns to testing. It creates in the public mind the illusion of confidence in that system. But, and this is critical, that confidence is only an illusion. That confidence is wholly false.
Look at Lance Armstrong. Consider Marion Jones. Each passed hundreds of tests.
Tests maybe can deter. But they do not prove with 100 percent certainty that an athlete is innocent of anything.
One final point.
Let’s say that track officials disregard the world’s best athletes and common sense and make this proposal the rule in track and field.
It’s not going to do what officials want. Indeed, it would do exactly the opposite. All it would do is sow confusion, which — right now, when track and field needs to simplify things and find ways to market itself to a new generation of fans — ought to be the very last item on its agenda.
For reference, Powell’s long-jump world record, set in 1991, is 8.95 meters. That’s 29 feet, 4 1/2 inches.
Let’s say, under this would-be policy, that at some meet somewhere someone jumps 8.90, 29-2 1/2. Let’s also say that’s deemed the new “world record.”
Any report from that meet — indeed, any report going forward about that 8.9 jump — would inevitably include a reference to Powell’s 8.95.
One would thus be called a “world record” when it really isn’t and one would be called a mark from the “all time” list when, in fact, it is the “world record.”
This is what happens when you try to re-write history. It can’t be done.
Track and field, you know, needs smarter thinking under that hat size, whatever it might be.
The 44th president of the United States ends his term this week, succeeded by the 45th, and in a ceremony Monday at the White House honoring Major League Baseball's 2016 World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs, Barack Obama proved his usual eloquent self in describing sport’s distinct role in American — indeed, global — society.
What’s now up to history to judge when it comes to sport is the demonstrable disconnect between Mr. Obama’s eloquence and his actions. Arguably no president in American history, none all the way back to George Washington, has been as disruptive as Mr. Obama.
Particularly in the sphere of international sport.
There can be no question, none whatsoever, that Mr. Obama talks a good game. On Monday, for instance, in the august East Room of the White House, jammed with dignitaries and Cubs fans alike, many in jerseys and caps, the president was funny, captivating, moving and profound, all of it, in a 20-minute address.
Referring to his campaign slogan in 2008 and the Cubs’ World Series drought, which would ultimately extend to 108 years before the Cubs last fall defeated the Cleveland Indians in seven games, Mr. Obama said Monday: “… Even I was not crazy enough to suggest that during these eight years we would see the Cubs win the World Series. But I did say that there's never been anything false about hope.
Everyone laughed and applauded as he added, “Hope — the audacity of hope.”
The president, a longtime fan of the Chicago White Sox, the 2005 World Series champs from the city's South Side, went on to say:
“All you had to know about this team was encapsulated in that one moment in Game 5,” meaning the World Series, “down three games to one, do or die, in front of the home fans when [the catcher] David Ross and [the pitcher] Jon Lester turned to each other and said, “I love you, man." And he said, "I love you, too.” It was sort of like an Obama-Biden moment,” a reference to the vice president, Joseph Biden, Jr.
Later, referring to the Cubs’ victory parade: “Two days later, millions of people -- the largest gathering of Americans that I know of in Chicago. And for a moment, our hometown becomes the very definition of joy.”
“So just to wrap up, today is, I think, our last official event — isn’t it? — at the White House under my presidency. And it also happens to be a day that we celebrate one of the great Americans of all time, Martin Luther King, Jr. And later, as soon as we're done here, Michelle and I are going to go over and do a service project, which is what we do every year to honor Dr. King. And it is worth remembering — because sometimes people wonder, well, why are you spending time on sports, there's other stuff going on — that throughout our history, sports has had this power to bring us together, even when the country is divided. Sports has changed attitudes and culture in ways that seem subtle but that ultimately made us think differently about ourselves and who we were. It is a game and it is celebration, but there's a direct line between Jackie Robinson,” the first African-American major league baseball player with the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1947, “and me standing here. There's a direct line between people loving Ernie Banks,” the Cubs star from 1953-71, “and the city being able to come together and work together in one spirit.
“I was in my hometown of Chicago on Tuesday, for my farewell address, and I said, ‘Sometimes it's not enough just to change the laws, you’ve got to change hearts.’ And sports has a way, sometimes, of changing hearts in a way that politics or business doesn’t. And sometimes it's just a matter of us being able to escape and relax from the difficulties of our days, but sometimes it also speaks to something better in us. And when you see this group of folks of different shades and different backgrounds, and coming from different communities and neighborhoods all across the country, and then playing as one team and playing the right way, and celebrating each other and being joyous in that, that tells us a little something about what America is and what America can be.
“So it is entirely appropriate that we celebrate the Cubs today, here in this White House, on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday because it helps direct us in terms of what this country has been and what it can be in the future."
These are, genuinely, lovely and moving sentiments. Thank you, Mr. President.
Did Mr. Obama’s administration prove true to those sentiments?
During most of his two terms, it can be argued, Mr. Obama — or by way of extension, deputies in his executive branch — used sports to project the full power and authority of the United States, both by way of action and, in the case of the president himself, omission. The government ranged far afield in projecting distinctly American notions of equality and morality in sports, some of the very values Mr. Obama said Monday "America can be," though it remains far from clear the roughly 200 other nations in the world can or should be like the United States, or want to be. The U.S. government pushed its views of the law in the anti-doping arena. And, of course, though there had been no cry to do so, the U.S. government saw fit to deputize itself to police international soccer.
Was this all triggered by the International Olympic Committee’s emphatic rejection of Mr. Obama in 2009?
Recently having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the president went to Copenhagen that October to lobby for Chicago, his hometown, then bidding for the 2016 Summer Games. Chicago failed to make it out of the first round, fourth of four, losing to Rio. Madrid and Tokyo were also in the race.
"Other than people who like to cheer, 'We're No. 4! We're No. 4!' I don't know how this is anything but really embarrassing," Republican strategist Rich Galen told CNN at the time, adding that Obama's failed pitch would “probably be the joke on Capitol Hill for weeks to come.”
Had Mr. Obama ever before suffered a defeat, indeed a rejection, so intense and so personal? Was it that Mr. Obama was himself stung? Or was it his longtime, and protective, aide, Valerie Jarrett? Or both? Or others in the president's close circle as well?
Seven-plus years ago, the president played off Chicago’s Olympic loss. He said it was “always a worthwhile endeavor to promote and boost the United States.”
His real feelings may have emerged in an interview published this past October in New York magazine:
“So we fly out there. Subsequently, I think we’ve learned that [the] IOC’s decisions are similar to FIFA’s decisions: a little bit cooked. We didn’t even make the first cut, despite the fact that, by all the objective metrics, the American bid was the best.”
As anyone who has spent the better part of a lifetime in politics can attest, “objective metrics” often mean nothing. Same for just four hours around the IOC, which is how long Mr. Obama was on the ground in Copenhagen that October morning. How could the president of the United States not have known that?
And what has been the fallout since?
— 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016: Olympics, Winter and Summer. Four editions of the Olympics during Mr. Obama's two terms, four opportunities to make an appearance, two — in Canada in 2010, the United Kingdom in 2012 — in countries as close and friendly to American interests as they might get, hockey rivalries or words like “trunk” and “boot” aside. Mr. Obama shows in none of the four. (Michelle Obama went to London.) Compare: President Bush attended the 2002 Salt Lake and 2008 Beijing Games. President Clinton made the 1996 Atlanta and Hillary Clinton the 1994 Lillehammer Games.
— September 2013: Thomas Bach is elected IOC president. Since, Mr. Bach has met more than 100 heads of government and state. But not Mr. Obama. In October 2015, Mr. Bach and most everyone in senior Olympic leadership traveled to Washington for a conference. Mr. Obama did not deem it worthy of his time. Late in the event, Mr. Biden — clearly pressured to show up on behalf of the administration — made a seven-minute cameo.
— February 2014: Mr. Obama, in response to a Russian anti-gay propaganda law, decides to try to stick it to his friends in the Kremlin by sending to the Sochi Games U.S. delegations for the opening and closing ceremonies that include a number of gay athletes, including the tennis star Billie Jean King. Why a tennis star, even one as superlative as Ms. King, ought to be featured at a Winter Games event is yet to be explained.
Mr. Bach said in opening the Sochi Olympics, in a shot at Mr. Obama, “Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct political dialogue and not on the back of the athletes.”
— 2015, FIFA indictments. This is not to say that there wasn’t wrongdoing on multiple levels in and around the international soccer scene. The relevant question for history is otherwise. Outside the World Cup, soccer is far from baseball, basketball and especially football in the United States. And by far the majority of those accused have not been American citizens. The Justice Department, when it brings an explosive case such as this, does so to score political points as much to make a case in court. So: why so important for the FBI, IRS and the Attorney General of the United States herself to make this a federal matter?
— May 2016: federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, from the U.S. Attorney’s office serving what’s called the Eastern District of New York, have opened an investigation into allegations of doping by top Russian athletes, the New York Times reports. For those keeping score at home: Loretta Lynch, the attorney general, used to head that Brooklyn office. For those further keeping score: this is the same Justice Department that brought cases sparked by allegations of doping against the likes of baseball stars Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, couldn’t seal the deal, but now believes considerable taxpayer resource is well spent pursuing Russians?
President-elect Donald Trump, meanwhile, has already spoken by phone with Mr. Bach, expressing support for the Los Angeles bid for the 2024 Games. Paris and Budapest are also in the race. The IOC will pick the 2024 site in September at an assembly in Lima, Peru.
Mr. Trump takes office on Friday. For sure, he has a range of priorities to pick from. If he decides that one of them is making new friends, and fast, in international sports, he could make it plain to his pick for attorney general, the current U.S. senator Jeff Sessions, the Republican from Alabama, that the Brooklyn investigation ought to be dropped, and fast.
Like, why is the United States government interested in doping by Russian athletes?
Especially an administration directed by Mr. Trump, who has shown little to less than zero interest in pursuing allegations the Russians might have played an active role in pre-election hacking?
Mr. Trump wasn’t at the White House Monday. Not his moment. But in the Ricketts family, which owns the Cubs, here nonetheless was a little slice of America as it is right now: Todd Ricketts, Mr. Trump's pick for deputy commerce secretary, stood to one side of Mr. Obama while on the other stood Mr. Ricketts' sister, Laura, who during the campaign raised significant funds for Mrs. Clinton.
This past summer, as he was heading off to vacation at Martha’s Vineyard, the remote Cape Cod locale, Mr. Obama, with a nod to Mr. Trump, had this to say as the Rio Games were just about to get underway:
“In a season of intense politics, let’s cherish this opportunity to come together around one flag.”
“In a time of challenge around the world, let’s appreciate the peaceful competition and sportsmanship we’ll see, the hugs and high-fives and the empathy and understanding between rivals who know we share a common humanity.”
Beautiful words. But — just that. Just words.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday flipped a big, fat middle finger to the international sports movement. On what grounds? And to achieve, exactly, what?
Did anyone at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn stop for even a second to think about the consequence — to the Los Angeles 2024 Summer Games bid, to the possibility of an American World Cup men's soccer tourney bid for 2026, to the interests of U.S. athletes everywhere — in opening a criminal investigation into allegations of state-sponsored Russian doping?
It is very, very difficult to make even — a little law talk here — a scintilla of sense from what, at first impression, seems like nothing so much as an outrageous, politically driven abuse of prosecutorial and law enforcement discretion.
In the United States, the law does not criminalize sports doping.
Italy, just to pick one — sure. But not the United States.
Yet here come the feds, reportedly launching a criminal investigation into sports doping. By athletes who are not Americans. What?
Indeed, as the New York Times first reported, the Department of Justice, through that Brooklyn prosecutor’s office, is “scrutinizing Russian government officials, athletes, coaches, anti-doping authorities and anyone who might have benefitted unfairly from a doping regime.”
It said the investigation “originated” with the FBI.
Because there isn’t a specific doping-related statute in U.S. law, federal prosecutors are apparently eyeing fraud and conspiracy charges, the Times reported.
This is, at best, legal gymnastics.
Imagine if the Russians, or the Chinese, or the French, pick anyone anywhere, decided to go after Americans: accusing U.S. athletes or their entourage or even American government officials of a crime under that particular nation's laws, basing the whole thing on allegations of sports-related doping.
What would the reaction be?
How is this any different?
The United States is not the world’s police officer nor, hardly, its prosecutor, judge and jury.
Who in the confines of some office in Brooklyn thought otherwise would serve any sort of American interest in our complicated, nuanced world?
News of the action from that U.S. Attorney’s office came as the International Olympic Committee announced Tuesday that re-tests of samples from the 2008 Beijing Games had turned up 31 positives, IOC president Thomas Bach calling it a “powerful strike against the cheats.”
Backing up for a moment:
You have to be a complete idiot to get caught doping at the Olympic Games. Everyone knows the authorities are going to be testing. And that samples get saved for years.
So there are two options here:
One, officials finally managed to get, say, some top-level Jamaicans or Kenyans. That would be a “powerful strike.”
Two, and more likely, if this cast of 31 was a Kevin Spacey movie, it would be the usual suspects. There are roughly 10,000 athletes at a Summer Games. Catching 31 means roughly 0.3 percent. Whoo.
Let’s be clear:
In this moment, the IOC is facing a potentially unprecedented onslaught of challenges: everything from Russian doping to the seemingly chaotic preparations for the Rio Games, from allegations of potential bribery involving Tokyo’s win for 2020 to the sudden resignation of Yang Ho Cho, the one guy in South Korea who had the 2018 Winter Games ship — finally — moving in the right direction.
IOC leadership has a bully pulpit. But no. It has been notably quiet when it could and should be aggressive in pursuit of resolution to all these challenges.
But that does not mean it is up to the United States to decide unilaterally that it is an American burden, taken on willingly, to address or fix even one of these problems.
The notion of American exceptionalism — that we are different because we are us — plays well domestically.
Internationally, not so much. Indeed, in the Olympic scene, you hear time and again that the rest of the world wants way, way less American exceptionalism. To that point, senior U.S. Olympic Committee leadership has spent the past six years preaching humility, asserting that the U.S. is just one of more than 200 nations in a global movement.
Apparently that message didn’t reach Brooklyn.
In retrospect, maybe it all makes so much more sense now, the failure of that New York bid for the Summer 2012 Games. All this dropping dead.
An American civics refresher: there are 94 U.S. attorney’s offices, one for each federal district. Federal prosecutors make for one of the most powerful arms of the entire United States government.
In Brooklyn, they implausibly decided the course of action ought to be more American exceptionalism.
Like, way more. Take that, everyone. Enjoy our investigation along with your freedom fries and newly relabeled “America” beer (née Budweiser).
A little more American civics background: the planning and execution of an American bid for a mega-event such as the Games or the World Cup involves different entities that are all part of the same branch of government, the executive: the FBI and DOJ, State, Treasury and more.
The head of the executive branch is the president himself.
President Obama has been, in many regards, an extraordinary executive. If the time in which we live is not always kind to Mr. Obama, history likely will be. At the same time, he might be the worst sports president since 1776. Ever since the day in October 2009 that Chicago got the boot for the 2016 Summer Games, won by Rio, the Obama Administration’s connection with international sports has been rich with one conflict after another.
And particularly with Russia.
It was just two-plus years ago, for instance, that the president opted in advance of the Sochi Games to make a political statement regarding Russia’s anti-gay laws by naming a U.S. delegation that was to be headed by the tennis star Billie Jean King and two other openly gay athletes. (King ultimately made it to the closing ceremony; she was unable to attend the opening ceremony because of her mother’s death.)
In nearly three years as IOC president, Bach has met with more than 100 heads of state. Obama? No, and not even last October, when a good chunk of the Olympic movement’s senior leadership descended on Washington, D.C., for the meeting of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees.
At that ANOC meeting, not one ranking Obama Administration official showed up — until the fourth day. Then came a surprise appearance from Vice President Joe Biden, the protocol equivalent of a drive-by.
During his brief stay on stage, all of seven minutes, the vice president called the Olympics the “single unifying principle in the world.”
Pretty hard to mesh that with an investigation out of Brooklyn into Russian dopers.
Indeed, there’s so much wrong with the idea that American federal prosecutors are investigating the possibility of laying criminal charges in this kind of matter that it is difficult to even know where to begin.
But here we go:
— There’s no law on point.
— On what theory does the United States claim virtually unlimited, worldwide jurisdiction?
It is incredibly unclear what nexus the United States might assert here to find jurisdiction. The banking system, as in the FIFA matter? That has always been tenuous.
— Let’s play hypothetical for just a moment. Assume the case yields indictments. How in the world are you going to get defendants into the United States, particularly if they’re in Russia? Get serious.
— The Times reported that the whistleblower in another story it broke a few days ago, about alleged misconduct at the Sochi 2014 lab, the director Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, is “among the people under scrutiny by the United States government.”
Let’s see: we want to encourage whistle-blowers to step up and report what they know. Rodchenkov, fleeing to the United States, does just that — only to become a focus of potential criminal inquiry by the feds?
It’s not hard to imagine this hypothetical: Rodchenkov applies for asylum. Such an application hinges on his “cooperation” with the DOJ, the feds in Brooklyn perhaps eager to squeeze him to be a key witness against others.
Rodchenkov already has a lawyer, the Times reported. And he said, “I have no choice. I am between two flames,” meaning the United States and Russian governments.
Also, this: Rodchenkov is living in Los Angeles. That is a long way from Brooklyn.
— Every case brought by federal prosecutors operates on two tracks: it plays out in court and, as well, in the court of public opinion. The resource of the FBI, DOJ and each U.S. Attorney is indeed significant but even that resource is finite. That means each and every prosecution has to be brought to prove a point. In essence, every single prosecution is distinguished, at some level, by notions of politics. This may not be the most popular point of view but it is indisputably true.
The Brooklyn office is the same office that is central to the FIFA case. That matter is a reach, jurisdictionally and otherwise.
This? Way more so.
And yet this is what law enforcement chooses to investigate? When surely the Eastern District of New York has more pressing issues? Like, say, shootings? Racially tinged housing issues? Antitrust matters? The list could go on and on.
— Why do U.S. taxpayers care for even a second if Russians are doping? What taxpayer interest might prosecutors be serving or protecting by going after sports dopers? None. Obviously. Otherwise Congress would have enacted a law saying something about the matter. That’s the way the American system works.
Let’s say an American finished one position lower in x number of sports at the Games because of proven Russian doping. Would the outcome of a criminal case result in y number more medals for the United States? Or Italy? France? Mongolia? Wherever?
Take as just one of but many such examples the Olympic women’s 20-kilometer walk.
Olga Kaniskina of Russia won the event in Beijing in 2008 and crossed the line second in London in 2012. In March of this year, the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled Kaniskina ineligible from August 2009 until October 2012 because of anomalies in what’s called her “biological passport,” a reading of blood markers. Thus at issue: the London silver. Third place? Qieyang Shenjie of China. Fourth? Liu Hong, China. The top American finisher? Maria Michta, 29th.
The women’s 3k steeplechase from London? The first-place finisher, Yulia Zaripova of Russia, is expected to be DQ’d for doping. Second? Habib Ghribi of Tunisia. Third? Sofia Assefa, Ethiopia. Fourth? Micah Chemos Cheywa of Kenya. The top American? Emma Coburn, ninth.
London women’s discus: Russian silver medalist Darya Pishchalnikova tests positive for a steroid. Third place? Li Yanfeng of China. Fourth? Yarelys Barrios of Cuba. The best American? Stephanie Brown Trafton, the 2008 gold medalist, in eighth.
And so on.
— Is it the DOJ’s responsibility to protect Americans from watching bad sports? Hardly.
Joke: if so, maybe it should focus on the MLS.
— The DOJ has a proven record of achieving very little, if anything, after spending considerable taxpayer dollars when it comes to high-profile sports-related corruption or doping-related prosecutions.
The two figures at the center of Salt Lake City’s tainted bid for the 2002 Winter Games, Tom Welch and Dave Johnson? The case — 15 counts against each — was dropped, a federal judge saying it offended his “sense of justice,” adding, “Enough is enough.”
Roger Clemens? Acquitted of charges he obstructed and lied to Congress in denying he used performance-enhancing drugs.
Barry Bonds? Free as a big-headed bird after nearly 10 years of facing prosecution.
Then there’s the peculiar matter involving Lance Armstrong. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles spent nearly two years investigating allegations that Armstrong and his cycling teammates committed a variety of potential crimes via doping. A grand jury had even been convened. Then, in February 2012, the case mysteriously just — stopped. Over and done. No more.
For years, Armstrong denied doping. He said at the time the criminal case was dropped that he was “gratified,” adding, “It is the right decision and I commend them for reaching it.”
So strange, still. Eight months later, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released more than 1,000 pages of evidence against Armstrong. Three months after that, there was Armstrong with Oprah Winfrey, purportedly confessing all.
The addendum: the chief prosecutor of the LA office at the time, then-U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr., was confirmed in July 2014 as a federal judge. That's a lifetime job.
For those keeping score: the former chief prosecutor in the Brooklyn office, Loretta Lynch, is now attorney general of the United States.
Remember: politics attends virtually everything involving the U.S. attorney’s office, wherever, wherever and however.
— Finally, when did it become a key DOJ agenda item to make U.S. foreign policy?
The idea that federal prosecutors could be so narrow-minded as to not take into account the LA24 bid, or American soccer ambitions for 2026, seems like a classic case of one executive branch hand (prosecutors) not knowing what the waggling fingers on the other hand might be up to.
Or, more probably, not caring.
Simply put: this is likely to pose a huge challenge for the USOC, the LA24 committee and others in the sports movement.
The FIFA thing was already difficult enough to try to explain amid the complicated matrix that underpins any U.S. sports bid.
Beyond which, any number of IOC members are known post-9/11 to be wary of travel to the United States. No one from another country likes being treated like a potential terrorist upon arrival. Especially IOC members.
Any number of members are also cautious, if not more, when it comes to what they perceive as a Wild West-type American gun culture. Among their questions: is it really safe to go to a college campus when there are open-carry laws? What about an Olympics with so many people carrying so many guns?
Now this from Brooklyn, and what is sure to be the follow-on assertion by any number of members that they must fret about every credit-card receipt if any financial transaction credibly can provide a tie to the U.S. legal system.
If the easy answer to that is, hey, IOC members, don’t do anything wrong — sure.
The simple rejoinder: it’s the cities that have proven the much-larger problem in IOC bidding, not the members per se.
At any rate, that doesn’t answer the salient question, which is: in September, 2017, with Paris, Rome and Budapest in the field along with Los Angeles, which city is going to get a majority of IOC votes?
As a policy matter, securing an Olympic Games is a way better proposition than going after some Russians. Politically, economically, culturally and in virtually every other way: winning a Games is a better bet.
At one point, you know, even President Obama thought so. He put his prestige on the line for Chicago, his hometown. Nothing has been quite the same since.
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.