One Wrong (Jones) Does Not Justify Another (IOC)

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The winning 4x-100 relay victors in Sydney: La Tasha Colander-Richardson, Monique Hennagan, Marion Jones and Jearl Miles Clark.

When is a team not a team? I’ve struggled with thequestion since learning that the women who ran with Marion Jones in the 400- and 1600-meter relays at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney would be stripped of their medals in the wake of Jones’ admission that she used performance enhancers during the competition.

I asked the question because the penalty for cheating varies in sports. In college, if a player is later deemed to be ineligible academically, to have used a banned substance, or to have taken money under the tabel, the entire team is often stripped of its records – from victories to championships.

But in the pros, the athlete alone pays for his or her transgressions, not the entire team. Players are fined, suspended, drawn and quartered – whatever. Imagine if the teams of every baseball player mentioned in the Mitchell had to forfeit any games in which a player deemed to have used steroids appeared.

The Dallas Mavericks’ record this past season might have been 0-82 if the team had to pay for Josh Howard’s admitted marijuana use. (Okay he said he only toked during the offseason – wink.)

The International Olympic Committee, that august bunch, stripped Jones’ teammates of any medals or records they earned with her. The members did so even though they acknowledged that the women did nothing wrong. Not a thing – other than share a baton with her.

This week, seven of the women appealled the decision with the the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Jearl-Miles Clark, Monique Hennagan, LaTasha Colander-Clark and Andrea Anderson to win gold in the 1,600-meter relay, and with Chryste Gaines, Torri Edwards and Passion Richardson want to keep what they earned eight years ago.

And they should be able to.

The IOC was wrong to strip Jones’ teammates of their medals because of their teammate’s trangressions. The records? Sure, the IOC has the right to expunged all of Jones’ times from the Olympic records – including those of the relays. As far as the IOC is concerned, Marion Jones never ran in Sydney.

And sad as it is, I’m okay with that.

That would mean the womens’ names would be deleted as well. Collateral damage, unfortunately.

But the medals, the only tangible evidence of their hard work, should not be taken away from them. That’s cruel and wrong.

When is a team not a team? Certinly in track and field, where relay teams are handpicked by coaches and cobbled together based on times and personalities. Each woman earned her own spot on the team with the same kind of hard work and committment that earned them a trip to Sydney.

And they did it without cheating.

Moreover, there’s no evidence they even knew Jones was cheating, so they cannot even remotely be deemed co-conspirators. They are guilty of nothing.

The appeal could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they are receiving no aid from the USOC because the atheletes did not use one of the attorneys the organization suggested. (In part, their attorney says, because there was a clause in the aggrement saying the attorney could not make any disparaging remarks about the organization. Yes, that would be censorship.)

The USOC should be bigger than that and support the womens’ efforts to retain their medals.

Or, before it all gets too much for them to afford, the IOC should simply overturn itself and let them keep their golds.

Even though their names will be obliterated from the records, let them keep the only tangible evidence they’ll have that on that day in Sydney Australian, they were the fastest women in the world.

Let them keep the medals for their children. Let them keep them for themselves.

Let them keep the medals because they earned them – the right way.

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