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"Productivity Over Integrity": Marion Jones, Tiger Woods, and the Sports Villains of the Decade

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Earlier this week, I made a post about former Olympic track superstar Marion Jones in response to commentary on the Women's Sports Roundtable online radio show about her decision to start training for the WNBA.

Since then, there has been a separate resurgence in media buzz about her over the last few days for three reasons: her medals being reallocated, sportsperson of the decade articles, and a connection to the Tiger Woods scandal.

While it's a somewhat random convergence of events, it has been a flash point to reflect on the legacy Jones seeks to rebuild in her pursuit of a WNBA roster spot, which might begin by signing with a team in Australia.

Reallocation of medals

Not too long after the buzz about her attempting to get back into basketball after a long hiatus, Jones jumped back in the headlines last week due to her medals being reallocated last week.

Wednesday's Sports In Brief - - SI.com

The International Olympic Committee reallocated two individual medals stripped from Marion Jones for doping, but in an unprecedented move withheld her 100-meter prize from Greek sprinter Katerina Thanou because of her "disgraceful'' behavior in evading drug tests at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

The decision means the first two runners across the line in Sydney have both been denied the winner's medal for doping violations, and the gold in sprinting's marquee event will remain without an owner - believed to be a first in the 113-year history of the modern Olympics.

Although her legacy officially erased and redistributed, her name has still come up in discussions of the decades most prominent athletes.

From sportsperson of the decade to sports villain

It's hard to deny, that without the doping scandal, Jones would get as much consideration for sportsperson of the decade as any Olympian could possibly imagine.

Who is the decade's best sportsperson? | Herald Sun
Ideally I would have liked a female sportsperson higher than Annika Sorenstam in seventh place, but the obvious candidate in Marion Jones ended up in jail.

With the doping scandal, she is being mentioned as one of the "sports villains" of the decade, and really, the last two decades.

Lying cheaters show us--again--why athletes are not role models
...the world of professional sports seldom deserves the veneration, or attention, we afford it. We were suckered by the pedestal-unworthy Woods, as we have been by so many other false idols in the sporting firmament: by Alex Rodriguez and Marion Jones and Pete Rose and O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson, who traded on their dazzling talent while lying and cheating, while taking drugs and committing crimes, playing us for saps while our slathering worship padded their vaults.

At some level, she does have an opportunity to redeem herself by looking for a second chance in sports via the WNBA, as other sports villains of the decade have.

Marion Jones To Join The WNBA? | DrJays.com Live | Fashion. Music. Lifestyle
Dan Hughes, coach of the San Antonio Silver Stars, has said that he does not plan to judge Jones on her past but will deal with where she is right now. He has also applauded her for her courage and solidarity. I certainly think she can redeem herself, just as Michael Vick has, Kobe has, and Tiger Woods… might. As long as she’s willing to break those old habits and start anew, I think the sky is her limit. Nothing would make me happier than to see her thrive again. At 5' 10" with all of the muscle and speed she has developed, I’d say she’d make one heck of a point guard.

However, even that attempt for "athletic salvation" as Mechelle Voepel called it, could be looked upon with scorn.

After writing that Marion Jones originally "had the decency to shuffle off stage left when rumbled", Mikey Stafford went on to describe why another sprinter -- London's Dwain Chambers -- was the second biggest sports villain of the decade.

The Joy of Six: sporting villains of the decade | Paolo Bandini and Mikey Stafford | Sport | guardian.co.uk
Having tested positive for the steroid THG and subsequently caught up in the Balco scandal, the Londoner received a two-year ban from athletics and a lifetime ban from the Olympics, but woe betide anyone who thought they had seen the back of Chambers. No, we had to endure the dreams of playing American football, rugby league, the "Just Say No" T-shirt, the slanderous claim that the upper echelons of sprinting were unreachable without drugs, more American football, the unsuccessful high court appeal against his Olympic ban and, the pièce de résistance, Race Against Me – his nauseating, "warts and all" autobiography.

While Jones has not at all gone to the "nauseating" lengths of Chambers, a basketball comeback might draw the ire of those who agree with Stafford's assessment of Chambers, if not place Jones among the top "villains" of her era.

Psychobabble: Tiger Woods
Marion Jones cheated her peers by taking drugs. She hurt others. She cheated on the public. She hurt the sports' image by doing something wrong WITHIN the sport. Vilify her all we must.

 

Dr. Boyce Watkins of BlackAthlete.net suggests that there is a racial element to vilification of black athletes, represented in both the media treatment of Marion Jones and, most recently, Tiger Woods.

'A Typical Black Athlete'
You can even add a woman, track star Marion Jones , to the list, as she was cited for being extraordinarily unethical, even though there is documented evidence that many members of her sport, as well as other sports, engage in consistent doping and then lying about it. This is not to say that black athletes don't lie and cheat: It's to say that cheating and lying do not know ethnic boundaries. When Big Ben Roethlisburger of the Pittsburgh Steelers was accused of rape this year , the media hardly mentioned a peep, nor was it stated on CNN that Ben was "acting like a typical white athlete."

However, the difference between Jones and Woods in terms of their relative falls from grace, might be that Woods was an even larger celebrity than Jones, arguably a brand unto himself.

Tiger Wisely Chooses Family Over Golf -- FanHouse
There have been scandals galore in sports -- Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, Michael Phelps, Marion Jones and Tim Donaghy of late -- but none of those people ever remotely gained our trust and admiration like Woods.

As Sara Libby described, really no female athlete we've ever known approached the level of stardom as Woods.

On the Lack of a Female Tiger Woods Equivalent - Sara Libby - Ill Communication - True/Slant
Let’s be clear. Cohen is 100 percent wrong to say that there are women in the Tiger Woods realm. I’d venture that Marion Jones in her glory days, Lisa Leslie and Michelle Wie combined don’t make as much as Tiger Woods, nor are they as universally recognizable.

Nevertheless, with Woods now being connected to steroid scandal, the Jones-Woods connection has grown even stronger around the web.

"Tiger Woods as Marion Jones"

At first with Woods having seemingly made an error unrelated to his accomplishment, it seemed that what separated him and Jones was that he had not actually cheated athletically.

The View From Where I Stand: American Culture Through the Eyes on Tiger
Why is Marion Jones an unmentionable on sports television? She cheated in the productivity arena. "Productivity over integrity" is a cultural norm in this country and thus my prediction that Tiger Woods will be back on his throne in short order. He is still the best golfer in the world, even to me, a fan of Lefty.

With Woods now being implicated in having cheated off the golf course, his legacy would take an even bigger hit if he also cheated on the golf course by using performance enhancing drugs.

Forget the infidelity, what if Tiger cheated at golf? :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Sports
Already a fraud as an image, Tiger would be a fraud as an athlete. And there's no forgiving that. Not for real sports fans. We're not talking ''Access Hollywood.'' We're talking access four-wood. Tiger's records, his legend, his accomplishments that have made him who he is would be vapor. Tiger Woods as Mark McGwire. Tiger Woods as Marion Jones.

In a way, Tiger Woods being exposed both on and off the course is even more shocking than Jones because his very image was molded as almost "pure" in relation to all the other tainted (black/cablinasian male) athletes in professional sports.

Tiger's demise
Major stars have suffered humiliating public stumbles before — think Marion Jones, or Kobe Bryant, or AFL star Wayne Carey, or any number of cyclists — but never has such a clean cut, privately guarded, and globally celebrated celebrity crashed so spectacularly.

What makes the Tiger situation so startling is that some people might even say it's unfathomable that Tiger could even be related to Jones.

Tiger Woods "Athlete Of The Decade" Award Puts Focus On All That's Wrong In Sports - The Rock Report
Who would have thought that you could put Tiger Woods in the same sentence as Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Mike Tyson, O.J. Simpson, Michael Vick, and Roger Clemens. All true competitors in their sport marking great achievement in each. I grew up watching sports and enjoying them for what they were...games. Can you really say that about today's youth when they watch the same games you and I watch?

Perhaps that's the bigger problem that really authentically connects Woods and Jones -- we spend far too much time putting athletes on pedastols.

"The myth of sporting celebrity"

No matter how many mistakes athletes make, we continue putting them on a pedastol simply because we admire the feats that we struggle to imagine accomplishing.

Lying cheaters show us--again--why athletes are not role models
...the world of professional sports seldom deserves the veneration, or attention, we afford it. We were suckered by the pedestal-unworthy Woods, as we have been by so many other false idols in the sporting firmament: by Alex Rodriguez and Marion Jones and Pete Rose and O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson, who traded on their dazzling talent while lying and cheating, while taking drugs and committing crimes, playing us for saps while our slathering worship padded their vaults.

Regardless of whether the situations of Jones and Woods are comparable on the basis of race, gender, or sport, Diana Worman points out that perhaps instead of pointing out the flaws of the athletes, we should re-examine the flaws in what we expect from them as human beings.

The myth of sporting celebrity
If anything, a sporting celebrity's experience of life has been narrower than most people of the same age, simply because of the focus required to sustain such a short-lived career. Tiger Wood's actions disappoint us, because his actions contradict our expectations, and the very commercial profile that his sponsors created for him and for us.

Woods is paying the price for poor judgement. But what also needs to change is our expectations of these very public flawed figures.

In an interview with Oprah last year, Jones said that she had hidden behind an athletic identity for so long that she had not connected with her true self.

While Tiger was being lauded by some for taking time away from his sport -- as Stafford commended Jones for stepping away from track -- the question is whether people will change their expectations of Jones-as-human further vilify Jones-as-athlete for trying to overcome the legacy she's created for herself to step back into the spotlight.

Transition Points:

The real sportsvillain of the decade?

Sport Vote: Villain of the Decade - Others, More Sports - The Independent
Victor Conte

Who he? Well, the man who led to the falls of Dwain Chambers, baseball's Barry Bonds and five-times Olympic medallist (now all stripped) Marion Jones. How? He was founder and head of the Californian laboratory, Balco, which developed the "undetectable" performance-enhancing steroid, tetrahydrogestrinone (THG).