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Friday, May 2, 2008

Crime & Punishment: Marion Jones/IOC vs. NE Patriots/NFL

All those with aversion to parallels between sports and life need not continue reading, this one is just too rich for your blood. The turmoil surrounding the cheater, liar and fraud Marion Jones draws attention to the issues of performance enhancing drugs, human ethics, discrimination and justice.

Such weighty topics drench our moral conscience as the peoples of society and fans of athletics, and grip our emotionally-driven rationality. This scenario in particular epitomizes the phenomenal power of public outrage flipped on its backside: what happens when no one cares?

Marion Jones' story is simple. Essentially she cheated, got caught and forced the IOC to rule that she and her relay teammates will be stripped of their medals. Sad, yes. Unjust?

If we based the relative injustice on the public reaction (see: inaction), then we are to conclude that the seven non-doping members of Marion Jones' 2000 Sydney Olympic relay teams were indeed guilty by association. That no one cares is not surprising, but consider the follow:

What if, in a retroactive ruling courtesy of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the New England Patriots were deemed void of their 2004 Super Bowl Championship because Rodney Harrison was burned for HGH in 2007?

Too dissimilar to be relevant? Both are team sports heavily reliant on contributions from each and every individual (Harrison was All-Pro in 2004 and the anchor of NE's defense). Both rulings came long after the victorious were crowned. Both featured lengthy paper trails and longstanding associations with PED providers (see Balco & Jones, Wade Wilson and Harrison). Jones and her teammates were disgraced publicly and then shamefully stripped of their medals compounding their distress while Rodney Harrison received only a four game suspension.

The contrasting severity smacks of judicial bias and discrimination, but must be considered with the acknowledgment of the equally-contrasting tolerance of PED users within their respective organizations. NFL players are every bit the walking chemistry experiment personified by Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, Ben Johnson and others, who have tarnished the reputation of their sport, a fact that NFL fans don't care to notice.

However, these two scenarios highlight the respective philosophies towards cheaters and their perceived wrong doing. The NFL fears the wrath of the public, the negative media frenzy that might be associated with such harsh condemnation. Instead, they hope their wrist-slapping is echoed among the masses – which culminates in the form of moans and groans, but little else.

While noble and praiseworthy, the IOC is determined -- at the expense of their own bottle line -- to ruin the careers and livelihood of those who deviate from their accepted policies. It does little to promote future Olympic athletes, but unquestionably fosters a trusting and integral competitive environment.

It may be the insignificance of the Olympics or womans athletics that has allowed this story to fly under the radar. Assuredly, if the hypothetical ruling from Commissioner Goodell came down tomorrow, the shit would hit the fan in Boston and everyone would get hit with a piece. The public outrage would make the intensity of the L.A.-Rodney King riots look like an equestrian competition. Fortunately for the otherwise peaceful Massachusetts residents, the NFL doesn't care about cheaters, and it would never make a decision at the risk of jeopardizing their bottom line.

Does this have a reflection upon our collective moral consciousness in society? Should we alleviate the impetus to cheat by allowing PED's in sport? These issues and a host more like them will remain indefinitely unresolved, perhaps another article for another day. Thoughts?

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