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Collateral Damage

Jones's lies shouldn't wipe away her teammates' work

Posted: Wednesday October 10, 2007 12:54PM; Updated: Wednesday October 10, 2007 12:54PM
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The 4x1600-meter relay team of (from left) La Tasha Colander-Richardson, Monique Hennagan, Marion Jones and Jearl Miles-Clark celebrate after winning the gold in the 2000 Olympics.
The 4x1600-meter relay team of (from left) La Tasha Colander-Richardson, Monique Hennagan, Marion Jones and Jearl Miles-Clark celebrate after winning the gold in the 2000 Olympics.
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They are collateral damage, innocent (at least as far as we know) bystanders hit by the fallout from Marion Jones's bombshell. Their names are Jearl Miles-Clark, Monique Hennagan, La Tasha Colander-Richardson, Andrea Anderson, Nanceen Perry and Passion Richardson. They are the track stars who had the misfortune of being Jones's relay teammates during the 2000 Olympics, the Olympics in which Jones now admits that she competed with the help of performance-enhancing drugs. Did your mother ever warn you not to fall in with the wrong crowd? Marion Jones was the wrong crowd.

Jones has returned the five medals she won in those Games, as well she should have. Those medals include the gold she won in the 1600-meter relay with Clark, Hennagan, Colander-Richardson and Anderson, and the bronze she won in the 400 relay with Perry and Richardson. (Two other members of that 400-relay team, Torrie Edwards and Chryste Gaines, are as guilty as Jones, having served doping suspensions since the 2000 Olympics.) But now the attention of Olympic officials and international track and field authorities are turning towards Jones's other teammates, the clean ones. Though there is no evidence that they joined Jones on the juice, their accomplishments in the relays will be wiped from the books and they likely will be stripped of their medals, all because they competed with a cheater in their midst.

And once again, the issue of PEDs in sports forces us to examine our notion of justice, of ethical behavior, of sportsmanship. Is it fair for Jones's teammates to pay a price for her cheating? Would the International Olympic Committee be justified in coming after their medals? Now that they know the truth, should the runners even want the tarnished gold and bronze? Should their own sense of integrity tell them to turn in the medals voluntarily?

There is a line of thought that says Jones's teammates may have been unwitting accomplices, but they were accomplices nonetheless, and that as such, they have no right to the medals that were hung around their necks. If they have been treated unfairly, it was not by the IOC or IAAF, it was by Jones. There is also the possibility, even the likelihood, that at least some of them knew or suspected what Jones was doing. By competing with her, the theory goes, they tacitly approved of what she was doing, and now they must pay the consequences.

That's the more cynical way of thinking, but Jones's cheating has left her teammates open to that kind of suspicion. There is guilt by association. "To make the Olympic Games was my ultimate dream," Passion Richardson told NBC after Jones's admission. "To have that tarnished by someone who was disrespectful, who showed no concern for her teammates, who didn't think about what the ramifications were if she were ever exposed -- now she has benefited from everything she has done and now the rest of her teammates, we're left to have to carry what she's done."

After 16 years of training for her moment on the Olympic stage, she doesn't think it's right that Jones's actions should make hers meaningless. "I don't think the rest of us should have to pay for what one person did," Richardson says.

It's hard to argue with that. When Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for steroids two years ago there was no movement in baseball to strike the accomplishments of his Baltimore Oriole teammates, meager as they were, from the record books. No one called for the San Diego Chargers to forfeit games when their star linebacker, Shawne Merriman, failed a drug test. So why should a group of athletes who did nothing except exchange a baton with Jones be compelled to give up what they earned?

In her admission and subsequent apology, Jones never directed any of her pleas for forgiveness to her Olympic teammates, a stunning omission. She robbed them, not just of the title of Olympic medalists, but of the certainty of their accomplishments. They will never know if they could have won their medals fairly. They will never know where they truly stood among the world's best at those Games. "How can I walk around and tell people I was a 2000 Olympic medalist?" says Richardson. Jones's doping was a betrayal on so many levels. Do not forget that one.

Strike the names of Jones and her teammates from the Olympic record books. That's necessary and unavoidable because of the way they got there. But as for the medals, leave them in the hands of the women who put in years of clean, honest work in pursuit of them. Jones's teammates deserve to keep what they have earned. It's only fair, when they have had so much more taken from them.

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