Wrong man for the job
How on earth could N.C. State give Hunter a full-time gig?
Posted: Friday August 6, 2004 6:00PM; Updated: Friday August 6, 2004 6:22PM
He answers his phone in the football office and before I can fire off a question, C.J. Hunter hangs up. The former shot-put world champion, never the chatty type, isn't talking.
Neither is Chuck Amato, the North Carolina State head football coach.
Neither is Lee Fowler, the Wolfpack athletic director.
Neither is Dr. Robert Barnhardt, the university chancellor.
The questions these folks won't touch are pretty straightforward: How did a guy like Hunter, who tested positive four times for steroids, land a full-time gig as assistant strength coach with Amato's football program? What safeguards are in place to ensure that the health of young athletes isn't endangered? And how does his hiring jive with the university's ethical principles?
In case you don't know or simply forgot, Hunter is best remembered as a distracting sidebar to the 2000 Sydney Olympics where his wife at the time, track-and-field diva Marion Jones, dominated headlines with talk of her "drive for five" gold medals. Jones fell just short in her quest and Hunter, having tested positive four times for the steroid nandrolone just before the Games, made news by retiring from the sport rather than fight doping charges.
About a year later, Hunter quietly accepted a part-time job as assistant strength coach with the N.C. State football program. He was promoted to full-time status in March 2003. Interestingly, according to the Raleigh News & Observer, real-estate records reveal Hunter had sold his home to Amato for about $563,000 on Aug. 28, 2002.
So what's the big deal, you say? OK, sure, we all screw up and deserve second chances. Yet having Hunter on staff is risky business and may expose N.C. State to further embarrassment if the federal government goes to trial against those tied to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), a California nutritional supplement firm accused of illegally distributing steroids to elite athletes.
Hunter, who was divorced from Jones in 2002, has been portrayed as one of the whistle-blowers in the BALCO case, perhaps because of an apparent grudge against Jones and the new man in her life, sprinter Tim Montgomery. Lawyers for Jones claim the ex-hubby lied when, according to several media reports, he told federal investigators that she had used steroids.
All of this is outside the scope of the NCAA, which has no hammer over the hiring of personnel on individual campuses. An exception would be if a school tries to hire a coach previously found to have violated NCAA rules, and that is not the case with Hunter. Asked about the image of someone with Hunter's past working with athletes, NCAA spokesman Eric Christianson said: "We certainly don't condone that type of an activity, but it didn't involve a particular NCAA student-athlete at this point. So our membership has determined it is best left to our institutions to make decisions related to their employees.''
As for N.C. State, two prominent ethicists suggest the university is, if nothing else, guilty of poor judgment for having Hunter work with its athletes. "I would say it is premature to bring someone like that into a job like that,'' offered Steve Potts, board chairman of the Ethics Resource Center. "Before you give him a job where trust is a big element, you've got to think twice about it.''
"It is simply a blindness on their part as to how not only the community at large is going to perceive them as an institution, but also the kids,'' added Marcia Sage, founder and president of The Sports Ethics Institute. "The kids are what are important. And here they are trying to educate them, trying to install important values and ethical principles in them and the next thing you know it is the height of hypocrisy.
"The thing that always rivets me in any discussion about ethics is your actions have to comport with the values you comport to have. And in this case it is sure failing.''
N.C. State athletic director Lee Fowler declined comment on Hunter's situation, saying it is a "personnel matter,'' but he has previously defended Hunter's hiring. Fowler has said he and Amato, the football coach, feel "very comfortable'' with Hunter working in the weight room, adding: "We test our athletes all the time for different substances and haven't had any problem.''
Amato said recently that he relied on "intuition'' and background checks before hiring Hunter.
If you're N.C. State, this BALCO business isn't good. Just consider some of the other juicy stuff that may come up when the federal trial gets underway, probably in the fall.
Hunter told the San Jose Mercury News last year that the International Track and Field Federation persuaded him to pull out of the 2000 Summer Games in an attempt to cover up his failed drug tests and protect Jones' image. Slapped with a two-year drug suspension on March 8, 2001, Hunter retired on the spot.
The New York Times and the Mercury News have reported that investigators have traced a $7,350 check written from Jones' bank account to BALCO founder Victor Conte in September 2000. The check, it has been reported, was written and signed by Hunter.
Conte's attorney Robert Holley declined comment on Hunter's statement, other than to say, "We are shocked and outraged once again that there has been another leak of information that needs to be tested in the dynamics of the courtroom."
According to memos obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, Hunter told federal investigators that he personally injected Jones with banned performance-enhanced substances -- including the designer steroid THG, endurance-boosting EPO and human growth hormone.
Jones' attorney, Joseph Burton, said Hunter was lying and sent a letter to federal authorities asking them to give Hunter a lie-detector test and then to charge him with making false statements if he fails the polygraph test. Jones remains under investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, but has not been charged. She has repeatedly denied using drugs.
Just the kind of role model you want around college athletes, right? It would be different if Hunter were on campus in another capacity, say, something in grounds maintenance or dealing with student housing. Instead, N.C. State hired a guy who allegedly bulked up on steroids -- and if his word are true, injected his ex-wife with the illegal juice -- advising football players on how to get bigger, faster, stronger.
Even if everything is on the up and up at NC State, and presumably it is, the perception is awful.
Not a pretty picture. And certainly not one folks are easy talking about.
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.