11/24/2007 06:05 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Susan Brownmiller on Marion Jones

My esteemed friend Susan Brownmiller sends the following fascinating paragraphs:

I adored watching Marion Jones break the tape at the Sydney 2000
Olympics. And I followed her career closely enough afterward--her
marriages and divorces, her sudden and strange withdrawals from
competitions--to get the idea she was one troubled lady.

I believe athletes should not take performance-enhancing drugs, and I
believe even more strongly that an athlete should not deny to a grand
jury that she took the clear, or the steroid, or whatever, when a
former husband, a former boyfriend, a former coach, a former supplier,
and a failed urine test are on hand to indicate she did.

But the Marion Jones story breaks my heart. The swift, beautiful Black
Atalanta with the hard body and soft smile wanted all the golden
apples as far back as high school when suspicion first reared its head
and Johnnie Cochran stepped in to defend her. Marion beat that early
rap, maybe honestly--who knows? My point is that I have no difficulty
understanding that she wanted to be the best in an era when more and
more athletes are using performance enhancers and in some sports, like
pro basketball, the steroid ban is so weak that it's laughable. The
current scramble to find clean runners-up to receive the three golds
and two bronzes that Marion copped in Sydney is a sad commentary on
what a gifted, competitive athlete feels she must do to win. And
gifted she was.

Suppose we look at it another way. Suppose we demand that all Oscar
winners who deny they've had facial enhancements be stripped of their
golden statuettes? Oh, but that's the entertainment world, you say,
where you must have enhancements to stay competitive. Athletes should
be purer than actors. Should they? I see no difference in the
Hollywood race for the gold and the Olympic race for the gold,
especially since the Olympic Committee decided to let in professional
athletes in 1986 and that was a long time ago. What's ethically
troubling, of course, is that some athletes (I hesitate to gauge how
many) are still running, biking, skiing, and hitting home runs without
enhancers, and the pressure on the holdouts has to be enormous. I can
relate to that. I'm not a celebrity in the public eye yet I feel the
pressure to do some enhancing from every beaming face of every
celebrity who denies using enhancements. O tempora! O mores! And how gifted she was.