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An old saying recited to young athletes time and time again is that cheaters never prosper. According to the decision by the International Olympics Committee to revoke the gold medals of the relay-mates of admitted steroid user Marion Jones, neither do their teams. What if such a standard, penalizing entire teams for the poor behavior of an individual, were applied to some more prominent team sports? As Bill Littlefield comments, it might change the way some athletes operate.
Kristine Lilly, the world’s most durable soccer player and perhaps the most accomplished as well, once dreamed about being an Olympic gymnast. She grew out of it. “I couldn’t imagine competing in an individual sport,” she said some years ago. “I use my teammates so much. I’m amazed at what the individual athletes can do. If things go wrong, they have to fix it themselves.” On the other hand, pro golfers and tennis players sometimes say they chose their sports precisely because they didn’t want anybody else determining their athletic fates. The former relay teammates of Marion Jones may be thinking more like gymnasts, tennis players and golfers than like soccer players. Jearl-Miles Clark, Monique Hennagan, LaTasha Colander-Richardson, and Andrea Anderson learned late last week that the International Olympics Committee had voted strip them of the gold medals they received as part of the winning sixteen hundred meter relay team that included Jones, who acknowledged in October that she had used steroids during 2000 and 2001. Jones’s former teammates have hired an attorney to make their case before the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. Given that most people in this country only pay attention to track and field during the Olympics, the resolution of this dispute may seem inconsequential. But if Clark, Hennagan, Colander-Richardson, and Anderson are compelled to return their medals because their teammate cheated, the theoretical implications for sports to which U.S. fans do pay attention could be interesting. What if a baseball team including a player who tested positive for steroids, human growth hormone, or amphetamines was required to forfeit the games involving that player? It may seem a stretch, but aren’t the members of the Cardinals or the Yankees as dependent upon each other as the members of relay team who run around a track? Doesn’t each group consist of teammates? What if each time an NFL or NBA player got caught using a banned substance, the wins to which he had contributed got erased? It won’t happen, but it’s kind of fun to imagine how the conversations in the locker room might go if it could.
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