ESPN 30 for 30: Marion Jones: Press Pause (2010)

Directed by John Singleton

A lot of people know who Marion Jones is and America celebrated her amazing performance in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney where she won 5 medals in Track and Field, including 3 Gold medals. Without a doubt she is an incredible athlete and perhaps one of the best female athletes of all-time, but that all came crashing down on her when her name was included in the Balco scandal that included othr star athletes Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi. Neither of them really ever fully recovered, though Giambi has played the last few seasons with the Colorado Rockies with minimal contributions. Barry Bonds on the other hand has faced the scrutiny and scorn of almost everybody, baseball fan or not. Then there was Marion Jones.

Jones’ name was included, much to many peoples surprise, and the aftermath she faced was unlike anyone else’s for the singular reason that she served jail time. The truth of the story, as it certainly seems like at this point, is that she did knowingly take performance enhancing drugs from villain Victor Conte of the Balco Labs in San Francisco. There really is no telling the extent to which she took them, and the time frame was never really explained in the film (just one of the many weaknesses of the film, but more on that later). So while she was a world class athlete, her legacy is tarnished. But when she lied to Federal investigators about having taken it, she violated our trust, and she admitted to as much. But as forgiving as we can, and should, be, and as remorseful and truly sorry Marion Jones was for what she had done, the road to redemption for anyone who is associated with PEDs is long, and perhaps never ending.

The PED discussion is one that has been enormous in sports the last decade and there are a handful of situations that I have always thought about concerning the controversies. The first, I guess, would be why doesn’t anyone come out and admit it right away when they are accused? I mean, I get you are trying to save your career, but pretty much everyone that has been accused and denied it has been found out, so if you did actually do it, what would come of the situation if you came out and admitted it right off? I feel like much more credit and forgiveness would be bestowed on the honest cheater than the lying, conniving one. The other question is, as sorry and truly remorseful as one can be, the stigma of this type of thing is nearly insurmountable. How does that affect the job market? If Marion Jones, a college graduate, came in to your company for a job, the visibility and scorn associated with her, would you hire her?

Anyway, I have avoided the film for long enough because, while the situation is an interesting one, the film is far from it. John Singleton, director of Boyz n the Hood and a few others, seems like he has no idea what to do with the material. It is just a sloppy mess of a film with no direction and no focus. One of the worst things you can do with a film is have the director stand in front of the camera and explain things to you instead of showing them to you through actual filmmaking. And when he is shown talking directly to Marion Jones, the questions he asks make it seem like he came into making this film with no idea what he wanted to do with it, no idea what to actually ask her. It goes into so many episodes and asides which have little connection to any bigger picture story other than the fact that they involve Miss Jones. Do we really need to visit the prison she was in for 6 months, as though it was some crime of society for the famous Marion Jones to serve time? Or the “shocking” prison story Jones tells about when she got into an altercation and was sent to solitary? No, because while Marion Jones is a special athlete, she is not a special case as a prisoner. She broke the law and served time like anyone else would have.

I have a lot of respect for Marion Jones, which may seem surprising given the fact that I do think she took PEDs and did lie about it. But like Chris Herren, only to a much lesser degree, she has been able to turn her mess into a motivational speaker story to teach the wrongs of her mistakes to those that haven’t had the chance to make them yet. I also have a lot of respect for her because of her drive and passion. I never knew that she was also a basketball player, having won a National Championship while at the University of North Carolina. But she also made a foray into the WNBA after her controversy because she had a desire, a drive, and a passion to push her to compete. Her WNBA career was short lived and not of note. The last thing I wanted to mention was just a little more venting about the film. Did we really need you to sum up everything we had just seen in the last 50 minutes Mr Singleton? Did we really need the screen to literally tell us what you just presented? Well, okay, maybe since you made such a poorly imagined and poorly structured film you did. I was really disappointed in the outcome of this film.

* – WOOF

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