LOS ANGELES -- Out of all the athletes caught doping in recent years, the one who suffered some of the harshest consequences was track and field star Marion Jones. After lying repeatedly to officials, to the public and, most important, to a federal grand jury about her use of steroids before and during the 2000 Summer Olympics, Jones finally confessed. She lost her five Olympic medals and her records, left track and field and was sentenced to six months in prison for perjury.
Although the first part of this narrative resembles that of other (usually male) athletes -- first, the drug use, then lying repeatedly about it -- what happened after, that she confessed, does not. Although Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens face perjury trials of their own, no other high-profile athlete has done prison time in connection with steroid use. Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez, who admitted last year to taking steroids earlier in his pro career, remains a star today, and others strongly suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs still work -- Mark McGwire is a batting coach for the Cardinals (Bonds is angling for a similar position with the Giants).
Marion Jones, on the other hand, lost everything.
The two-time Oscar-nominated director John Singleton does not dwell on this almost absurd contrast in ESPN's "Marion Jones: Press Pause," part of its ongoing documentary series "30 for 30," which celebrates the network's 30th anniversary. He mentions it, clearly, but he and his subject are not in the business of recrimination, justification or, unfortunately, explanation. Jones famously, and emotionally, addressed the media on the federal courthouse steps in White Plains, N.Y., apologizing for her misdeeds and taking full responsibility for her choices.
Over the years, much blame was placed on Jones' coach and on her husband at the time, but there is none of that here. This is about what happened after. Although she describes the moment in which she actually lied to the grand jury, Jones does not discuss at all what it was like to be at the nexus of such a huge disconnect -- beloved star and role model who is doping and lying about it. She refers to her actions as "bad choices" and "mistakes" and hopes to use the jagged trajectory of her career as both a cautionary tale and an inspiration for children and young athletes.
Singleton does not make light of her crime; interviews with fellow runners, sports columnists, coaches and fans make it clear that Jones let a lot of people down. But he and his film are focused on who she is now -- a lovely, bright, determined mother of three who did her six months, including almost two months in solitary confinement, came home, had a baby and decided to join the Shock, Tulsa's WNBA team, all within a space of two years.
In other words, an extraordinary woman, who also visits schools and talks to kids, embracing, rather than downplaying, her fall from grace.
While there is much to admire in that, and in this film, it's hard not to wish Singleton had chosen to give us a little more background. Those not familiar with Jones' career or the issue of steroid use will have to do some serious Googling if they hope to appreciate the narrative.
The bigger gap is formed by the missing "why?" Jones and her current husband are very forthcoming about those horrible months when she saw her career crumble -- her description of the drive to prison alone makes "Press Pause" worth watching. She has written two autobiographies, "Life in the Fast Lane" and the just-released "On the Right Track," so she understands the demands of narrative. That she chooses not to explain what she was thinking during those years of crime and cover-up is too bad; no doubt it, like much of "Marion Jones: Press Pause," would have been illuminating.
30 FOR 30
Rating: Not rated