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Rojo Speaks: February 6, 2002

Mary Decker Slaney - Undeserving of Millrose Hall of Fame & Her Current Marathon Publicity

by Robert Johnson

Before I go negative, let me say one positive thing that is often forgotten. At least they test for drugs in track and field, I mean the NFL's testing policy is much more of a joke. The amount of steroid abuse in the NFL is higher than that in track and field and yet little is ever said about that (Yet another example of the popular press/establishment ignoring the difficult issues involved in sports).

I only mention this fact because one of the most disturbing things I've realized as I've become more involved with the sport of track and field is the tendency of everyone to solely focus on the negative - whether it's ripping an individual athlete's performance, bemoaning the illegal drug use in the sport, the size of the crowds,etc. Sure there are a lot of negative things to focus on, but while we do that, we also need to be supporting the many positive things that are going on at the same time.  (This is what Craig Masback - CEO of USATF - is best at. He does a great job of getting the good word out - how attendance, television ratings, sponsorship are up, etc. I just wish he would be a little more willing to address the negative elements that are out there instead of giving the impression that they are being swept under the rug.)

That's why we encouraged you to get your butt in the stands at the adidas Boston Indoor Games as they assembled a simply amazing distance field. Those of you who took our advice were duly rewarded with three American record including one world best. The rest of you in the Boston area had better have had a good excuse for not being there.

That being said, on to the negative.

Last Friday night, I was at my parent's house watching the Millrose Games broadcast on Fox Sports New York (DirecTV is a great invention for track fans). During it, they showed the induction of the new members into the Millrose Games Hall of Fame. One of the athletes was Mary Decker Slaney.  I about fell out of my chair.

Mary Decker Slaney has accomplished an awful lot in the sport of track and field. She was an international star as a teenager. Her crying on the track at the 1984 Olympics after being tripped by Zola Budd will forever be ingrained in our  memories as the ultimate Olympic horror story.  She also is a convicted drug cheat.

Do we really want convicted drug cheats in any sort of Hall of Fame? I say no. Quite honestly, I think anyone convicted of a major drug offense (not some three month affair for taking Sudafed) should have all of their previous marks removed from the record books.  

Some might say Slaney's situation is comparable to the Pete Rose situation in Major League Baseball. The all-time hit king was banned for life from the game he loves for gambling when he was a manager. Many people believe that he should still be included in the Baseball Hall of Fame. My initial reaction said no, but now I'm ambiguous (as long as I know he never bet against his own team) about his fate. However, I do know one thing. Pete Rose committed a huge sin, but it pales in comparison to that of taking performance enhancing drugs in the sport of track and field.  

Athletics is about achievement plain and simple. How fast, how far, how high? Knowingly taking a performance enhancing drug makes a complete mockery of the very essence of the sport. It's an affront to those countless thousands who are giving their hearts and souls to legally be the best they can be. Taking illegal drugs is a short-cut. It's no different than cutting a marathon course. Should we put Rosie Ruiz in the Boston Marathon Hall of Fame? What about Martin Franklin in the New York City Marathon Hall of Fame?  

As you can see, I don't believe Mary Decker Slaney deserves to be in the Millrose Games Hall of Fame. Undoubtedly she accomplished a great amount at Millrose, but we have no idea how much of it was honestly earned. I don't think she was on drugs as a teenager, but that doesn't mean she's fit for the Hall of Fame. I mean Kenneth Lay built a great company at Enron. He probably wasn't cooking the books the entire time he was there. Should we put him in the Business Hall of Fame to recognize all of the great works he accomplished early in his career? Of course not.

Defenders of Slaney will try to say her situation is different and not as cut and dry as I make it. Slaney claims she had a high testosterone level as a results of taking birth control pills. I'll be the first to admit that I know about the scientific arguments behind the case. However, I do know that 99% of the time drug cheats make up excuses and proclaim their innocence. The facts are that the IAAF reviewed the facts, gave her a hearing, and gave her a two year ban.

Some may say that USATF exonerated her. Well that's pretty much irrelevant for a number of reasons. One that would be like a lower level court making one decision and then being overturned by another court as the IAAF has final authority. Moreover, this is the same organization that has little credibility on the drug front.  On Tuesday, World Anti-Doping Agency chairman Dick Pound urged the IAAF to expel USA Track & Field for refusing to identify athletes who fail doping tests. Craig Masback has accomplished a lot as the CEO of USATF but his lawyer background (he used to represent Leon Lett of the Dallas Cowboys in his drug cases against the NFL) is getting the best of him when it comes to the drug front. Sure it would suck to be accused of being a drug cheat if you truly were innocent, but as Pound pointed out, suspected criminals are named before their court cases come to trial. "Nothing in any U.S. law prevents them from giving the names out," Pound said. "Think of it: If you're charged with murder, your name is given out." There most likely are athletes out there who are innocent who test positive for drugs.  It would suck to be one of them. However, that doesn't mean the entire drug testing scene should be veiled in secrecy.

There is another aspect related to the entire Mary Decker Slaney induction into the Millrose Games Hall of Fame that also disgusts me. While Mary was in New York, she evidently gave a couple of interviews, as The New York Times and Newhouse News Services both did pieces on Slaney. Not once in either article did it even mention that she was suspended for two years by the IAAF or that she was at least involved in a drug scandal. Give me a break.  

I just can't get over how willing the popular press in America is just so willing to look the other way when it comes to drugs.  How can
The New York Times - the granddaddy of them all - not even mention something so relevant as a drug suspension in a 787 word article about Mary Decker Slaney?  It's not like the author is some track and field neophyte who was unaware of Slaney's past.  The author, Frank Litsky, regularly covers track and field for The Times, and is the same man who wrote the article in The Times about Pound urging USATF to be kicked out of the IAAF.

I guess it shouldn't have come as a surprise given the fact a fellow reporter and even the interview moderator tried to prevent
Irish journalist PJ Browne from even broaching any uncomfortable subject with Regina Jacobs at her Millrose Games post-race press conference.  The events of the last 10 days have only confirmed my belief that the popular press/track and field establishment simply wants to ignore the drug problem and push it underneath the rug.  Many of these probably are well intentioned and feel the sport can't afford a major public relations disaster. I disagree. The sport will forever be tarnished unless we get things cleaned up. I'd rather see the sport take a major public relations blow now and go from there with a clean start.  In cycling, Lance Armstrong is asked "difficult" drug questions all the time, and yet is the most popular cyclist by far.

Lastly, let me rant about one final thing related to this entire Mary Decker Slaney episode that I can't believe. It's the fact that the 787 word article on Slaney appeared in The New York Times in the first place. The article wasn't about how Slaney was being inducted into the Millrose Hall of Fame; rather, it was about how Slaney was planning on moving up to the marathon. There would be nothing wrong with that until you get to the kicker. Mary Decker Slaney stated in the article that she would eventually hope to go after the women's world record of 2:18:47.  

Now I know reporters have a tendency to take comments out of context and bait people into saying things, but this is ridiculous on two fronts. I can't believe she would even mention that as a goal (and we believe in not limiting oneself but that's ridiculous) and I also can't believe that a reporter would include such a ludicrous statement in his article, without even mentioning that it's completely and utterly not even within the realm of possibility - on drugs or not.  Sadly, Mary Decker Slaney appears to be yet another example of an athlete having trouble letting the limelight pass her by.

The day she runs a 2:18:46 or better is a day when I stop being a fan of the sport. We all know that will never happen, but if it does, I sure hope there are a slew of drug testers at the finish line.

Comments? Send them to Robert at robertjohnson@letsrun.com or post them on our Message Board.

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Editor's Note: Robert Johnson, a.k.a. "Rojo", is the co-founder of LetsRrun.com.  Robert has been running all of his life, but only competing seriously since the Fall of 1997 as a serious of injuries curtailed his high school career and prevented him from running in college.  Since returning to competitive running, Robert progressed quickly and just missed out on qualifying for the 2000 US Men's Olympic Marathon Trials by running a 2:23:11 marathon at the 2000 Las Vegas Marathon.  A former high school math teacher, Robert is in the process of moving back to Flagstaff, AZ to work on the web-site and assist his brother in preparations for the 2004 US Olympic Trials.  

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