Go on, fake your sincerity

we buy it

October 11, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

Even a week later, many of us are still professing shock, shock, about an elite athlete getting outed as a drug cheat. The domino effect of Marion Jones' guilty plea in federal court and her tears-on-cue apology on the courthouse steps continues. Now, her Olympic relay teammates from the 2000 Games might have to return their medals just as she did, and, to say the least, they are not reacting well to the news.

Yet there are still many who can't get over Jones' confession. She seemed so ... nice. Charming and sweet and pretty. Did she ever sucker us. She's still suckering a few of us who felt sorry for her when she finally spilled her guts and think she has been punished enough.

It should serve as a lesson to us all, about honesty and integrity and accountability. The lesson is this: Forget that. Lie like a cheap rug - but be nice about it.

We fall for it every time, fans and media alike. It's the first rule of putting a big one over on the world, and it's a wonder why every single athlete at every level doesn't at least try it. If it's in your heart to deceive people, there's a way to do it and get away with it.

It's not the Barry Bonds way. He was doubted from the moment his home run totals got unnaturally high - which, not coincidentally, happened right around the same time Jones' times got noticeably low.

By then, Bonds could have legally changed his name to Surly Slugger Barry Bonds. He was never, ever going to get a break from anybody once his play gave rise to suspicion.

Jones got breaks for seven more years. It all caught up to her eventually, but that was seven years of goodwill Bonds will never see. Did she deserve it? No, but it didn't matter. Had authorities not tied the strings together when they did, she could have gone on for years having people think her biggest crime was having bad taste in men.

We say we want honesty from our athletes, of course. We got more from Bonds than from Jones - not about their connection to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, but about their true personalities. We knew what we were getting with Bonds. It was authentic, in its own way. Kind of refreshing, actually.

But Jones gave us what we really want: the facade of integrity.

It's Lesson 1 in the Ph.D.-level course Shooting, Scamming and Scoring: How to Fool the Public for Fun and Profit.

The course also recommends:

Extreme Defiance. The career arcs of Jones and Floyd Landis are creepily similar. We loved their stories, were crushed by the allegations that they cheated and were impressed by the intensity of their denials and the lengths they took to defend themselves. To borrow George Costanza's description of George Steinbrenner, they threatened to sue people as if it were a bodily function.

Landis yesterday took the final appeal of the decision to overturn his 2006 Tour de France victory to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. In some minds even now, this defines him as "plucky."

Mythical Image-Making. Jones was America's Golden Girl. Mark McGwire was cast as Paul Bunyan. Not long ago, you couldn't read or hear about Rick Ankiel without a reference to Roy Hobbs. Instead of rubbing a nerve, even when allegations started surfacing, the imagery tugged at the heartstrings. Technically, Beelzebub is a mythical figure, but not a pleasing one, so Bonds can't benefit from it.

Overnight Success. Again, before the 2006 Tour, Landis was a nobody, riding on a bad hip yet, who then scaled the mountains and rallied when all seemed lost - the all-American underdog story. It gave him a great cushion for the eventual fall.

Flying Under the Radar. A close cousin of Overnight Success: Lay low, keep quiet, let others get the acclaim, just grind out the successes and hope the spotlight doesn't fall on you. Rafael Palmeiro sneaked up on people over a decade and a half, was admired for compiling Hall of Fame numbers with almost no fanfare, and thus was granted the stunned "No, not him!" reaction when he flunked a test in 2005. Had Bonds not started breaking records, today he might still be despised only for sneering at reporters.

Any or all of the above should let a determined cheater skate for a long time. But if those seem too capricious and subjective, one last lesson will ensure that you can ingest all your body can stand and still face a minimum of scrutiny or condemnation:

Playing in the NFL. Ask Shawne Merriman. Ask Rodney Harrison. Ask the 2003 Carolina Panthers. Or just look at the games. Then ask yourself how performance-enhancers falls so far down the list of concerns of the average NFL fan, behind players going to strip clubs and coaches calling timeout just as a kicker tries a field goal.

And NFL players aren't all that nice. Not as nice as that Marion Jones was.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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