Marion Jones demonized by big business sports
Published Oct 13, 2007 7:41 AM
Marion Jones was the first woman to ever win five Olympic medals. In stellar
performances, Jones, one of the best track-and-field athletes in the world, won
these prizes at the Sydney summer games in 2000.
But no matter how high she rose and how much she accomplished, Jones was not
immune from the racism faced by athletes who are from oppressed communities.
Having been singled out by the federal government in an investigation into
BALCO, a company that made or supplied performance-enhancing drugs to athletes,
she became the first athlete to be convicted in this case.
On Oct. 5, after being constantly hounded, harassed and intimidated for years,
Jones pleaded guilty to perjury to federal agents about use of
performance-enhancing substances. She faces imprisonment. On Oct. 8, Jones
turned in her hard-earned medals to Olympics officials.
The media have relentlessly pursued and vilified Jones in the most callous way,
whipping up racism and sexism in the process.
Worn down by the unrelenting pressure, Jones tearfully announced that she was
retiring from track and field, which she loves.
But there is much more to her situation than the official story.
The Olympics, although touted as a fair-playing field where the best world
athletes show their skills and compete, is big business. Billions of dollars
are at stake. Corporations invest millions to reap billions. The 11 top
sponsors of the Sydney Olympics, which included McDonald’s, Nike and
Coca-Cola, paid a total of $605 million.
From 2002 to 2006, the International Olympics Committee took in nearly $4
billion, much of it from corporate sponsors. Other funds come from broadcasting
rights and licensing fees.
Networks pay millions of dollars for exclusive broadcasting rights; NBC alone
is expected to pay $894 million to show the 2008 games in Beijing.
But the athletes are paid nothing. They are regarded as workers, as a means to
make mega-profits for the International Olympics Committee and its corporate
backers. The IOC, a reactionary body that has profited from the athletes’
labor, seeks to maintain absolute control over all of the world games’
participants. It has no sympathy for the athletes. At any moment, the IOC can
quickly turn against them.
Yet every athlete trains for years for these games. Athletes are pressured to
push themselves to their maximum endurance, to compete at the most intense
level, and to do anything to get an edge over their competitors—at all
costs, even endangering their own health, all in order to bring home Olympic
It is widely known that the use of performance-enhancing drugs, including
steroids, is rampant throughout the sports world at every level, especially at
the top. This phenomenon is worldwide. The Olympic Games are no exception.
These drugs which bring in massive profits for the big pharmaceutical companies
are readily available, even through the internet.
This is what sports competitions under capitalism look like.
It is the athletes from oppressed communities who face the most scrutiny, no
matter how talented, wealthy, or adored by their fans. They are in the greatest
danger of government prosecution and ostracism by the sports industry for any
Olympic medalists Ben Johnson and Justin Gatlin are among other Black athletes
who have been penalized for allegedly using performance enhancers.
Baseball great and home-run leader Barry Bonds has also been targeted in the
BALCO scandal, and may very well be indicted in the near future. He has already
been tried and convicted in the media.
The corporate media play a major role in perpetrating the denigration of
players of all sports. Instead of looking at the intense pressures athletes are
constantly under, news agencies, reporters and sports columnists go on the
offensive and try to break them down. They especially malign players from the
oppressed communities, whether they’re participating in baseball,
football, basketball or the Olympics.
It is an outrage that Marion Jones has been vilified by the media.
Where is the justice here? One of the greatest women athletes of all time has
been forced into retirement. Her spirit has been broken. She is financially
ruined. And she faces prison.
There should be sympathy, solidarity and respect shown for her.
Those who make enormous profits from the Olympics and all sports, those who
pressure young athletes to win at all costs, those who use and then discard and
denigrate them—this is who should take the blame for a situation they
What’s really needed is for the profit motive to be taken out of sports,
including these world games, and for the athletes to be treated with high
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