Thursday, October 30, 2008

I wanna believe

Thursday, 30 October

Of all the athletes brought down for use of performance-enhancing drugs, the one who disappointed me most was Marion Jones. I thought it was beautiful to watch her race. She had so much poise, such a race face, so much emotion....and speed. So when the voice across the room last night told me she was on Oprah, I had to watch.

Marion the arm-chair interviewee was a much different person. Maybe she was trying to be a much different person. I think six months in prison certainly gave her time to put together her story and repeat it like a mantra until it was her only story and the one she believes 110%.

A newspaper column this morning said that Oprah only asked "softball questions," but I thought the one that Oprah kept coming back to, kept not fully believing Marion's answer, was "how could you as an elite athlete not know what you were putting into your body?" On the surface, that seems like a valid sticking point in Marion's story. But embedded in our society, it's totally plausible.

Marion wanted to believe her training was making her better, faster, stronger. The "supplements" she was taking would help her recover faster, build more muscle, all those things that we take supplements for. Her job was to focus on herself; she had coaches to help her with the details. And maybe, just maybe, at some level she just didn't want to know what it was exactly that she was taking.

Still don't believe it? You wanted that $875,000 house, even if it was beyond your means. Your lender said "I've got this great adjustable rate mortgage and we can make it happen." Maybe you asked what happens when the ARM "adjusts," but look how many Americans did not. Or you hear that eating fish is good for helping to prevent heart disease. And look how much fresh fish is available at the supermarket. Those reports that it's laced with flame retardant and heavy metals and other toxins? You don't worry about them; fish is good. It's so much easier not to ask questions, especially if you are otherwise getting something you want or like.

Marion does not deny that she took performance-enhancing substances but says she did not "knowingly" take them. She knew something she was doing was making her faster, but wouldn't we all like to believe that good training was bringing the promised results? I'm not trying to defend her or say she was unjustly punished. I'm just sorry her career ended the way it did. The saddest moment during the interview for me was not when said she'd missed her children's birthdays while she was in prison but when she said she'd never run again. She was a cover girl, and she could've been a role model. If she finds the right theme, maybe she still can be.

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