8:02 PM EDT, October 20, 2011
I hadn't heard anything about defrocked Olympic track and field champion Marion Jones in the three months since her one-year WNBA career ended when she was waived in July by the Tulsa Shock, which went on to become one of the worst teams in pro sports history, with a 3-31 record.
Then this news item from the Associated Press popped across the transom Thursday:
"Former U.S. track star Marion Jones is telling children in Croatia to think hard about making big decisions, saying she wished she had done so.
"Jones was in Croatia Thursday on behalf of the U.S. State Department, an international opportunity for her to continue rehabilitating her tarnished image after a career brought down by doping."
I must admit to having been surprised by the idea of Jones representing the U.S. government in some way, especially since she is a convicted felon whose career was brought down less by doping than by lying to federal investigators about that and about her role in a money-laundering scheme.
In fact, the federal judge who sentenced Jones to six months in jail said he did not believe she was telling the whole truth about her drug use. And she hasn't added anything to her confession since the sentencing in January, 2008.
With that in mind, I called the State Department Thursday to ask about the decision to have Jones traveling through the former Yugoslavia (she was in Serbia earlier this week), giving basketball clinics and speeches under the aegis of the U.S. government.
State Department spokesperson Nicole Thompson gave me a statement explaining that Jones' appearances were part of "our embassies' public diplomacy outreach to the Croatian and Serbian people."
"She was selected because our embassies believe her message about the importance of making good decisions will resonate in Croatia and Serbia," the statement said.
"Her interactions with Serbian and Croatian youth in basketball clinics and public events has been very successful. Her discussion of lessons drawn from her own life gives credibility to her message."
Credibility and Jones may not have been in the same sentence since late 2003, when allegations of her drug use surfaced in the Balco scandal. The allegations became fact when Jones was forced to admit her doping, which she disingenuously claimed had taken place unwittingly for only a brief period that included the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where she won three gold and two bronze medals later stripped from her.
They key word in the previous paragraph is "forced." Jones copped to any doping only after the feds squeezed her with the threat of five years in jail for lying about her role in the check fraud scheme.
I found through a Twitter link that I wasn't the only journalist interested in Jones' presence in Eastern Europe. Early Thursday, the New York Daily News posted a story to its web site headlined, "Olympic sprinter Marion Jones relives tainted past, still hedges on full story."
According to the Daily News, a public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Serbia, Ryan Rowlands, invited Jones to take part in the diplomacy outreach after learning of her "Take a Break" program, in which the fundament is for anyone to step back and think when faced with a decision which could alter their life (such as doping or check fraud).
The Daily News reported that Rowlands knew there would be concerns about Jones' history when he brought the idea of choosing her to the State Department.
"She acknowledged what she did was wrong," Rowlands told the newspaper. "She's chosen to move beyond that."
What Jones has chosen is to tell some of the truth. And the doping she did admit not only corrupted results but cheated other athletes of a chance to bask in the spotlight of receiving Olympic medals before a full stadium. Not very diplomatic on her part.
I feel the same way about her admissions as I do about those Mark McGwire made when he wanted to get back into baseball as a coach: if they had confessed everything, it would be alot easier to be forgiving about their past.
Even then, I would find it rather unusual for the State Department to use Jones as an emissary.
Is an ambassadorship next?
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