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Saturday, January 12, 2008
Sad Injustice

Another African American superstar athlete has been prosecuted by the Justice Department for perjury arising from the Balco Grand Jury. Now Marion Jones, winner of five Olympic medals and probably the best female athlete of our time, has been sentenced to 6 months in prison by a federal judge in New York.

The Judge’s remarks in sentencing Jones are curious and reflect the double standard facing celebrated sports figures. On the one hand, the Judge said: “I want to make [people] realize no one is above the law,” reinforcing the myth that these athletes are too often given passes by the media and the law when they get in trouble. In fact, just the opposite is more likely to be the case as evidenced by the reason the Judge gave for handing out such a harsh sentence to someone with no criminal history and who is not a threat to anyone. “Athletes in society,” he continued, “have an elevated status. They entertain, they inspire and perhaps most importantly, they serve as role models for kids around the world. When there is a widespread level of cheating, it sends all the wrong messages to those who follow these athletes’ every move.”

What is that? Jones, who is still nursing her seven month old, has to spend six months locked away from her family and the rest of us because she disappointed the kids who idolized her? Where in the sentencing guidelines is that factor?

I said it before and I will say it again. This Bush-Gonzalez Justice Department does not have the moral authority to sentence anyone, but particularly African-Americans, to prison for not telling the truth about whether he or she took performance enhancing drugs. Not when the President commuted the sentence of Scooter Libby who was convicted of lying about an issue that led the country into an unjustified war and when the Attorney General himself had trouble telling the truth under oath before Congress.


Dear Mr. Milstein,

I agree the judge rethoric is over-moralistic. but:

1.jones did not only cheat children who idolized her - -she cheated opponents who devoted their lives to track and field. if you would have your life goals ruined by a cheat - would you not expect justice?

2. she ruined one of the greatest cultural events of our time - the olympic games. she should be treated as someone causing great cultural and financial damage.

Where I agree is with you is the strange urgency for her to serve her sentence now. she is no threat to anyone and one should' let her serve her time when the younger child is older.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/12/2008 11:18 AM  

sorry - i posted the comment above - ronen dorfan

Anonymous -- 1/12/2008 11:19 AM  

Oh, yes, the oppressed African-American community is lynched by the Bush administration, federal judges, and the Justice Department yet again. Nothing to do with perjury, just race...C.J. Hunter a victim, too....and Gatlin...

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/12/2008 12:01 PM  

She was supposedly not charged with taking steroids but with lying to a grand jury. So whether he cheated other athletes is irrelevant. Her medals have been strpped from her so she has paid for her athletic transgressions. The only questions are whether she should be put in jail for the perjury offense and why her.
Alan Milstein

OpenID amilst -- 1/12/2008 12:18 PM  

But of course: it's all political.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/12/2008 12:30 PM  

Playing the race card. Again.

Blogger Kevin -- 1/12/2008 2:35 PM  


She "ruined one of the great cultural events of our time"? She "should be treated as someone causing cultural and financial damage"? This all sounds like an exaggerated and emotional way of simply saying that there wasn't a level playing field. Please articulate the great harm to society from causing an uneven playing field in sport that warrants the MAXIMUM sentence, let alone ANY criminal sanction (as opposed to some form of civil sanction). Everyday people drive motor vehicles under the influence of alcohol and drugs, putting the lives of thousands of innocent people at risk, and they lie about it too, and they don't face the penalty that Jones received.

Regarding your first point, do you believe that all "cheaters" in society deserve jail time? What about those who cheat on law school exams or commit plagiarism, and then lie about it?

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 1/12/2008 4:55 PM  

Kevin - we shouldn't dismiss this post as "playing the race card." Playing the "race card" card just cuts off conversation (and doesn't contribute to it in any meaningful way) about a very valid topic - the double standard Mr. Milstein refers to the in the post.

While I'm not sure that we should take into account the current Justice Department's legitimacy in analyzing the sentence (I feel it's separate from the topic of the Judge's stance towards athletes, in which we can, I think, look at public perceptions of the responsibilities of "entitled" athletes), I think it's something to be discussed.

Blogger Satchmo -- 1/12/2008 5:00 PM  

Without addressing the race issue, it's unclear to me how this is a double standard.

1. People look up to you, so we are going to hold you to a higher standard.

2. So, if you thought you would get off because people look up to you, you were wrong.

Seems very consistent to me...

Anonymous Michael Risch -- 1/12/2008 6:11 PM  

Mr Milstein, Mr. Milstein, Mr. Milstein . . . . let me remind you (AGAIN) that Alberto Gonzalez is no longer the Attorney General of the U.S. And, what "moral authority" do YOU have?

The choice of whether to prosecute a case rarely--if ever--gets to the level of the POTUS. His involvement in a case usually, if not involving him as defendant, is choosing to commute or pardon or not--a rarely-used option given the number of cases on a yearly basis. This is a decision made more often at the level of a state's governor or district attorney.

Further, WHO the POTUS chooses to pardon is his choice for HIS reasons. Quite frankly I was surprised when Libby was found guilty, even though there was no apparent crime (similar to the Martha Stewart case, when she was haled up on perjury charges which had nothing to do with the original case). My question was why wasn't Richard Armitage, the true leaker, in the dock instead of Libby?

I wonder if you had the same venom on this subject when the President was Clinton and he had all the pardons signed in his last 24 hours.

Next, it wasn't just blacks who have been hauled in for perjury: Martha Stewart, for one; Bond's trainer, for another, isn't black. Neither, if I recall right, is Marian Jones' coach.

Part of the problem is the attitude that if a celebrity--sports, film, political, whatever--"gets off", that they had "priviledges" due to having "lots of money" that we "ordinary people don't have/can't get" because of their status; so when someone like a Bonds, Jones, Stewart, etc. DOES get convicted (they didn't get off because of money, status, etc.), there is a "double standard" now? At least be consistent!

The only "sad injustice" in this case is for Marian Jones' kids, for they did nothing wrong. Their mother did (twice in two different cases) and is paying the price. I do agree that maybe she should serve her time at a later date (if upheld on appeal) or had time suspended--but not no time at all.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/12/2008 10:27 PM  


good question. cheating at law school is something more difficult to quantify as far as the damage to others is concerned.

cheating in the olympic final may result in an athlete from bahama or nigeria not winning a medal she worked for her entire life
. she may not get a 30k from her nation's sport authority that may be enough to buy a house in her country (this is not MLB - multi-millionaires cheating multi-milionaires). The damage is real and in some cases changes people's lives.

I may be extreme = but for me drug cheating at the olympics is not about "even playing field". The olympics are a cultural heritage of the world - it is similiar in my eyes to someone walking into a museum and ruining an imports art work or stealing archeological artifacts.

So I don't agree that giving back her medals and humiliation is enough of a punishment.

I want to make it clear. These are the reasons I would LEGISLATE to make drug cheating a criminal offense. And make this legislation a condition of Olympic participation.

So I do a agree with the result and not sure about the means.

On a completely different issue - I am not sure what the pardoning procedure is with federal cases. Separating her from the young child borders and infringement of the bill of rights. but that is for the executive to solve through open prisons. etc. I don't know if these exist in the US


Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/13/2008 4:49 AM  

Look, the principle behind the justice system is that individuals must accept the consequences of their actions. So when the POTUS pardons his friend who was convicted of perjury in a rather serious matter, there must be consequences. And those consequences in my book must be that people like Marion Jones get to stay home with their chlildren.
As to my friend Bill Clinton, he did not have to serve time for perjury either. And while Martha did, wasn't it obvious she was being singled out because of her celebrity and because the prosecutor wanted a feather in his cap? To lock people away for such actions is just wrong. To lock them away for the wrong reaons is criminal.
Alan Milstein

OpenID amilst -- 1/13/2008 9:10 AM  

how do you read into a story in ESPN today - that clemens is re-considering speaking under oath to congress. do you think he is being cautious because of the jones case? do you think this means bonds is at a huge risk of serving time if convicted?


Anonymous -- 1/13/2008 4:09 PM  

Whoever is designing the Clemens pr defense has made some questionable moves and is playing a serious game of chicken. I think most attorneys in such cicumstances will tell you it is ok to believe your client but you better plan for the possibility that he has not been completely candid with you. I don't think team Clemens has heard that maxim.

OpenID amilst -- 1/13/2008 5:34 PM  

Race card? Snicker.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/14/2008 12:47 AM  

I think Mr. Milstein is dead on when he suggests that the federal government has questionable motives when it advocates for putting Marion Jones in jail. The larger "war on doping" is very much a function the very low international public opinion of the United States, especially on matters related to doping in sports. For decades, the federal government has ignored the problem and turned a blind eye to the countless super star Olympic athletes who were cheating. Only when our international reputation was in tatters (we were likened to East Germany and some even suggested that we not be allowed to host another Games until we cleaned up our act) did Congress decide to start fighting for the integrity of Olympic competition. People have said that we have a socio-economic draft with respect to the war in Iraq. Looks like we've got one in our war on doping as well.

Anonymous dionne -- 1/14/2008 4:12 PM  

Since when does the Justice Department 'sentence' anyone?

Prosecutes, yes. Sentences, no.

Sloppy writing: a hallmark of ideologically-driven blog arguments. I thought this blog was better than that.

By the way, the Judge who imposed the sentence is no hack. He was praised as a moderate and well-qualified nominee... by Patrick Leahy.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/14/2008 4:20 PM  

Should one injustice leave the door open for another?

Like it or not, and regardless of her skin color, Jones broke the law in multiple ways, multiple times.

The judge's mistake was making this about celeberity when it should really be about a woman who just broke the law - nothing more.

To make this about race only prolongs tensions between those focusing on their differences, rather than similarites. Blacks who make this a racial issue are as making the same mistake whites make when they help perpetuate the same problem.

Get a grip.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/14/2008 10:53 PM  

This is so sad... After all those years of denial. At least she came clean.

Anonymous sportsbookers -- 1/16/2008 3:26 PM  

6 months jail time is nothing! The shame of living with it for the rest of her life is the hardest part to deal with.

Anonymous sportsbloggers -- 1/16/2008 3:28 PM  

The foundation of our legal system requires honest testimony, however biased. If perjury is not persecuted our legal system will collapse.

Ms. Jones was convicted of multiple instances of outright lying; that more than justifies her sentence, independent of her race.

We can all speculate as to who has committed perjury, but the key is who has been convicted?

As for Libby, I find his conviction somewhat satisfying. BTW I believe his sentence was commuted, but the conviction stands.

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