Marion Jones has $2,000 in her bank account.
After years of fighting court judgments, the athlete we once called America’s sweetheart hit rock bottom on Friday when she admitted publicly to taking steroids after years of questions and controversy surrounding her athletic success.
Jones, who admitted lying to federal investigators about taking performance-enhancing drugs, could now face jail time. She has been publicly humiliated, has given back the five Olympic medals she won in the 2000 Olympic Games, will never professionally run track and field again, and will go down in history with a tarnished reputation.
The media has not stopped buzzing about Jones since the story broke. Talk radio hosts have called her a fraud and a liar who gained an unfair advantage over the rest of the field. Jones will now be remembered as a cheater rather than the stellar athlete she proved to be seven years ago.
But the fact that our attention is fixed on Jones, hardly means that she’s the only athlete with problems.
Serena Williams, one of the greatest tennis players in the world, has tried multiple times to use bathroom breaks to her advantage during a match. This year at Wimbledon, Williams tried to take a break right before her opponent began to serve. Her request was denied. When she was given permission on her turn of serve, she no longer wished to go and refused to stop play. Because Williams has used these breaks to her advantage, they have now been banned; but Serena Williams continues to be celebrated as a successful professional tennis player.
So what’s the difference between Marion Jones and Serena Williams?
They both cheated. They both wanted to get ahead. The same competitive spirit that makes those people — along with Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, Sammy Sosa and countless others — such amazing professional athletes is the same spirit that urges them to do whatever it takes to gain an edge.
It would be unfair to say that cheating in sports is a new development. Cheating has been around as long as competitive sports have. Baseball players have used corked bats and have even spit on a ball to throw off a smooth pitch. You name it, it’s been done.
So why the big hype with steroids?
The competition in professional sports is at a level incomprehensible to most of us. There is an undoubtedly high degree of stress and a demand for greatness that we as fans practically demand and expect of these athletes.
When Barry Bonds hits a home run, he is king. People stand up and applaud his incredible athletic ability. When he strikes out, he is human and the boo’s can be heard in all directions.
As fans, we demand that our athletes be superheroes and act superhuman. But when we look past the uniform and the glorious faÃ§ade it provides, we see that they are, indeed, only human: prone to mistakes and lapses in judgment.
And then we find out that their tree-trunk-like biceps aren’t as organic as we thought, and we have the nerve to hiss and whine.
Have we lost our integrity as fans?
Sure, we want to see records broken and times shattered, but are we asking too much of these athletes that we constantly immortalize and idolize? We need to step back and see these athletes for what they really are — people, and people who day in and day out come out to play for you and for me.
Yes, Marion Jones lied; but aren’t we taking it too far when we demand a performance that is unparalleled by any other female athlete? And then we want to send her to jail for her mistakes only after we’ve seen her successfully break those records? She has lost everything, including her once-celebrated name, and that is quite enough.
Athletes aren’t heroes. They are people who play sports, merely an avenue of entertainment for you and me.
It is undoubtedly the case that sports have gotten too big and too important when steroid scandals like Jones’ and Bonds’ are national catastrophes.