John Smallwood | What price do you put on innocence?


Posted: July 06, 2007

UNLIKE, SAY, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa, former world-class sprinter Marion Jones was tested numerous times for steroids, human-growth hormones and other substances deemed to give an athlete an unfair competitive advantage.

Unlike those baseball players, Jones has negative test results to back up her claims that she has not used performance-enhancing drugs.

But just like Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and any number of unusually amped-up ballplayers, Jones' achievements are viewed under a cloud of suspicion.

But unlike Barry & Co., Jones has paid a tangible price for her fair or unfair linkage to performance-enhancing drug use.

Marion Jones reportedly is broke.

Less than 7 short years after she was on top of the athletic world, winning five medals at the 2000 Olympics and signing multimillion-dollar endorsement deals as one of the world's greatest female athletes, Jones, according to reviews of recent court documents, is heavily in debt and down to about $2,000 in the bank.

Last year, she reportedly went through foreclosure on her $2.5 million mansion and had to sell a few other properties, including the house her mother lived in, to raise money to battle her mounting debt responsibilities.

The World Anti-Doping Agency, the United States Anti-Doping Agency and any other agency that waged war with Jones over her alleged steroid use didn't merely win, they routed Jones.

They did it without winning a single battle in a nearly decadelong war of attrition that has left Jones broke, without her once-stellar career, and without a legacy.

Jones continually said she had never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs and vowed to use all of the resources at her disposal to aggressively fight any claims that she had.

In the end, she did.

Recently asked about what happened to the millions of dollars she earned in her career, Jones, 31, replied: "I wish I knew. Bills, attorney bills, a lot of different things to maintain the lifestyle."

Jones might have blown some of her money on frivolous things, but there is no denying that much of it was lost to the bills associated with waging a non-stop battle with various track and field governing bodies to keep from being suspended.

Up against such high-powered and well-financed entities as WADA, Jones hired top legal assistance to argue her cases. That help didn't come for free, and eventually bills came due.

Jones, if innocent, was in a Catch-22. She had no guaranteed contracts. She was competing in a sport in which administrators willingly turn a blind eye to illegal performance-enhancing drug usage.

In her prime, Jones was one of the first women in track and field to become a millionaire. She typically earned appearance fees of $70,000 to $80,000 a race. Bonuses and endorsement deals made her a multimillionaire.

But to keep the money flowing, Jones had to stay eligible, and to do so, she had to fight the governing agencies seemingly determined to take her down at all costs.

The irony is that despite all the rumors, innuendoes and sword-rattling, Jones never was officially charged with anything.

Last season, she tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug EPO but was cleared when her backup sample tested negative. That incident, however, led Jones to quit the European track circuit. She missed at least five major international meets and forfeited a reported $300,000 in appearance and performance fees.

Sure, it's possible Jones was just so far ahead of the curve in the cat-and-mouse drug game that she beat the tests other competitors got popped for.

But what if the results of the hundreds of drug tests that she has passed were correct? What if she's told the truth all along?

At her age, with her reputation and, now, without the finances to hire a top-notch trainer, Jones is effectively done as a top competitor and endorser.

Her legal battles have left her virtually penniless and, likely, without any means of recouping what she has lost.

It doesn't matter that Marion Jones fought and won so many individual battles, because in the end the costs were so high, she ended up losing the war.

I wonder how long before her Olympic medals end up on auction.

Memories don't pay the bills. Not even golden ones. *

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