- The Washington Times - Friday, June 18, 2004

Marion Jones is seeking to rehabilitate her sullied image, if only to assuage the concerns of her corporate backers.

Her public appeal is motivated out of desperation, and hardly persuasive.

She has nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, plus an ex-husband who is said to be cooperating with federal investigators in the BALCO doping scandal.

The attempt of Jones to dismiss the messenger is the standard operating method of those with a serious amount of baggage lurking in their closet.

Jones has an awful lot of evidence to refute, and is left with the hollow defense of having never failed a drug test.

An undetectable steroid, after all, was the operating essence of BALCO.

In the dirty sport of track and field, Jones is guilty until proven innocent. That is why drug testing is such an essential part of the sport.

Jones is not about to win this fight, only limit the considerable damage being done to her previously impeccable credentials.

As it was with Kobe Bryant, corporate sponsors tend to drop the faces that accumulate too many blemishes.

Her call to have a public hearing is as phony as her heartfelt performance at the Sydney Games in 2000, when she clutched the hand of her then-husband, shot-putter C.J. Hunter, who claimed his four failed drug tests were the result of tainted supplements.

Jones is not entitled to fashion the rules of the investigation of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, as she knows.

She merely made the suggestion to bolster her tenuous claim of innocence.

For now, she remains incredibly guilty of being careless with her million-dollar image.

That comes down to a bad marriage, a boyfriend who is being investigated by the anti-doping agency, two coaches with doping pasts, a check from her account made out to the head of BALCO and a calendar that shows her initials on the appointed days with BALCO.

An investigator, given the circumstance, has no choice but to dig further, as opposed to shutting it down out of convenience to the sprinter’s training schedule.

Jones is up against an uncertain future, with her participation in the Athens Games hanging in the balance.

Her participation is connected to her worthiness as a spokesperson for Nike.

It is hard to plan a marketing blitz in conjunction with the Athens Games if your principal star is on the precipice, clinging to a badly frayed lifeline.

The forces around Jones are starting to be aligned against her, from the ex-husband to Victor Conte, the founder of BALCO.

Conte is looking to cut a deal to stay out of prison, as his attorney made clear in a letter to President Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft and three federal prosecutors.

Conte is willing to tell all as long as he can avoid a prison cell.

One way or another, the Justice Department and the anti-doping agency are going to uncover all the dirt.

The emphasis on Jones is to clean our dirty laundry before it undermines the Athens Games, fraught with problems as it is.

The U.S. has developed the habit of pointing the finger at other countries during the Olympics, while knowing that its contingent is hardly pure.

If Jones is deemed guilty and receives a suspension, the U.S. message will be unyielding.

Even the darling of track and field is not above reproach.

Track and field, as an increasingly marginal undertaking in America, could benefit from the house-cleaning. Its slide to a once-every-four-years curiosity show has been hastened by the stench that envelops it.

Seeing is not necessarily believing in track and field, an element apt to dissuade the causal viewer.

Is Jones as clean as she repeatedly has claimed?

We don’t know yet.

We do know that hers is a shaky proposition.

We also know that lots of smoke is emanating from her home.

What fire, she says?

We can go with that disconnect for now.

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