We wanted to believe her, and she let us down.
Marion Jones was loud, defiant, and emphatic in the face of accusations that she rose to the top of her sport with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs. She had never failed a drug test, she said, and therefore did not deserve to be accused.
When Victor Conte, the head of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), described Jones' drug use in 2003, she sued him. Never mind that as the architect of BALCO's designer steroids, Conte would be in a position to know. We wanted to believe her, not him.
When Jones' ex-husband, C.J. Hunter, stated that she had used steroids, she denied it, and we dismissed the whole thing as sour grapes. Never mind that Hunter himself tested positive for steroids, and never mind that Tim Montgomery, the father of her child, is a steroid user as well. We wanted to believe her, not the disgruntled ex-husband.
As we all know by now, Marion Jones turned out to be guilty of taking BALCO steroids and lying about it to federal investigators. She was America's sweetheart, winner of five Olympic medals, the best our country had to offer.
Now, stripped of her medals, she leaves prison today, a disgraced ex-convict.
Once one of the world's most recognizable and beloved athletes, her release from prison was a mere footnote at the bottom of ESPN's screen. We would just as soon imagine she disappeared from public life forever, because we wanted to believe her and she let us down.
Barry Bonds, the former San Francisco slugger at the center of the BALCO controversy, also denied that he took steroids. He, too, was defiant in the face of accusations. However, he was convicted in the court of public opinion long before the evidence began mounting against him.
This certainly is not a race thing. Both Jones and Bonds are black. This is, in part, a personality thing.
Jones was bubbly and beautiful, always smiling, generous with the media. Bonds, by most accounts, is a jerk. He's surly, arrogant, and paranoid. (His head is also about the size of the Goodyear blimp.) During his playing days, he was consistently aloof and dismissive with the media.
It's really that simple. We liked her. We never liked him. Because of this disparity, we did not want to believe Marion Jones was guilty. However, we never entertained the idea that Bonds might be innocent.
(Of course, he's not. He went from looking like an outfielder to looking like a linebacker, and played some of his best baseball at an age when most players retire. I never saw him actually take steroids, and neither did you, but I have no doubt that he's dirty.)
Ironically, Bonds was recently invited to a ceremony honoring the San Francisco Giants' greatest outfielders. It will be a while, however, before Marion Jones is invited to anything.
We are angrier at Marion Jones than we are at Barry Bonds. Why? Because we wanted to believe Marion Jones, and she let us down.