A Cowardly Act??

By Monte Poole
Updated: April 13, 2008

CALIFORNIA — The punishment of presumably innocent women is the most heartbreaking twist yet as we continue exploration into the muck of sports performances made artificial by advantages concocted in a lab.

Though their plight is the latest turn in the most-publicized sports scandal of our times, the response to these women being tossed overboard has been scant coverage and little outrage, so riveted are we to the new baseball season, the race to the NBA playoffs, the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, Olympic Games politics, the Masters and, of course, the utterly fascinating countdown to the NFL draft.

Or maybe we’re just jaded.

Nonetheless, eight United States Olympians were recently stripped of medals received during the 2000 Games in Sydney. They are being penalized for the admitted sins of a ninth team member, Marion Jones, now known as the disgraced queen of American sport.

She copped to being a drug cheat and last month reported to federal prison to pay her debt to society. The IOC has decided Marion’s former teammates — Jearl Miles-Clark, Monique Hannagan, LaTasha Colander-Richardson, Andrea Anderson, Chryste Gaines, Torri Edwards, Nanceen Perry and Passion Richardson — also must pay.

Because, you know, they were Marion’s teammates in the 1,600-meter relay, where they won gold, and the 400 relay where they won bronze.

Didn’t matter if they juiced. Didn’t matter whether they knew of Marion’s lab work. Doesn’t matter that their medals represent the culmination of a lifetime’s labor.

Which seems brutally and completely unfair — no less of an injustice than if Major League Baseball were to repossess Derek Jeter’s World Series rings from 1999 and 2000 because former Yankees teammate Roger Clemens decides to confess guilt to everything his former trainer alleges to have occurred.

Should Dave Stewart, Rickey Henderson and Dennis Eckersley have to surrender their 1989 World Series rings because former A’s teammate Jose Canseco was a drug cheat and former teammate Mark McGwire may have been?

Should the NFL confiscate all four of Lynn Swann’s Super Bowl rings because Pittsburgh teammate Mike Webster — a fellow member of the Hall of Fame — died after long-term steroids abuse that began during the Steelers’ reign of the 1970s?

Would MLB consider making the 2002 Giants return their NL pennant because Barry Bonds was found guilty of something linked to the suspicions shadowing his every move.

If Miguel Tejada is stripped of his 2002 MVP award because he used something stronger than vitamins, that wouldn’t make it fair to force Barry Zito to return the Cy Young Award he won the same season — even if current Giants fans might feel otherwise.

The case of these women illustrates the difficulty in trying to untangle the web created by the use of performance-enhancing substances. Rewriting history means miscarriages of justice and rampant subjectivity.

Which means endless collateral damage and countless innocent victims.

Can’t the known facts be enough? Oakland’s Bash Brothers era was terrific theater, but those A’s can’t completely distance themselves from the scandal linked to teammates.

Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain, generally considered the greatest dynasty of the modern NFL, can’t escape its connection with steroids.

The last Yankees teams to win back-to-back championships knows full well that their accomplishments would be tarnished should it be discovered that Clemens ate Cheaties for breakfast.

The 2002 Giants don’t know how much pride to take in that season, any more than they know the discomfort of bragging about Bonds’ 73-homer season in 2001. Rich Aurilia hit a career-high 37 bombs that year, batted a career-high .324. He clearly benefited from batting in front of Bonds.

If Barry gets an asterisk, does Richie get one, too? Of course not.

So it should be with these eight women, even if some of them might have turned to the cream or the clear or the needle or something else to add horses to their natural power.

The greatest tragedy of Olympic Games failure is that there are so few opportunities. Conventional sports, involving teams or individuals, conclude with yearly achievements and champions. The wait until next year is never more than a few months.

Olympians wait 48 months. The Games conclude a four-year commitment to training, making an unforgiving physical and financial and emotional investment.

Receiving the desired reward, then having it taken away for the actions of others is devastating. We know Jones falsified her way to glory in the 2000 Olympics. She’ll spend the rest of her days dogged by the shame that has follows Ben Johnson’s every step.

As for Marion’s teammates, they know their medals are associated with Marion. We know it, too, as does the IOC. The facts tell us.

These women and their representatives plan to navigate legal recourse in hopes of regaining the ultimate symbols of their achievement. May they, in the name of fairness, be successful.