Twice in his life, in 1976 in Montreal and again in 1984 in Los Angeles, Edwin Moses has stood on a raised platform and had an Olympic gold medal draped around his neck for all the world to see. He has been all alone up there, judged the best of his generation, untouched by anything but history. It's a spectacular, floating feeling, an athlete's most fantastic dream come to life.
Last Friday, in a Los Angeles courtroom, Moses stood to receive another kind of judgment. He had been on trial for soliciting, legally a minor crime but morally a decidedly major crime for an honorable athletic hero. "This was just so much more important to me than the gold medals. I can control my races, but I had no control over this. I was completely helpless," Moses said, recalling how he felt as he watched the 12 jurors file silently back into the courtroom after reaching their verdict. "The judge is there. The jury comes in and sits down. And you just wait. Then the foreman reads it off."
Up there all alone again.
Was Moses scared of a guilty verdict?
"Not scared," he said quickly. "But I was concerned."
Most attorneys advise their clients that juries are tricky beasts; you never know what they'll do, so you never want to go before them.
"That's right," Moses said, smiling. "But you never want to have charges filed against you, either. I had no recourse but to go to trial. It probably would have been a lot easier to make an admission of guilt -- even though I didn't do anything -- pay a minor fine, which really isn't anything, and walk away from it. But I never even considered that. It was necessary for me to do what I did, to stand up to my responsibility . . . In the nature of my business it was very detrimental to have even the accusation come out." He chose his words carefully: "Just the allegation is enough to damage my career. I didn't have to be guilty, to be guilty."
Moses does not remember all the words the foreman read last Friday.
"I was only listening for two words," he admitted, those being: not guilty. "And when I heard the two words, I was quite happy. I was glad it was over . . . I was confident that the jury had enough facts to make a correct decision. The thing was -- would they?" Moses shook his head. "I didn't want a hung jury. That would have been even worse."
The jury deliberated for 2 hours and 20 minutes. Not long at all. There were, reportedly, two ballots taken. The first was 10-1 in favor of acquittal with one abstention; the second was unanimous.
"They weren't even close to finding me guilty," Moses said emphatically -- almost, but not quite, bragging. Then he laughed and said, "They told me that the only reason they stayed in there so long was because they had food and drink coming in."
Today marked the first time that Moses has spoken publicly about the trial, and perhaps the first stop on the Edwin Moses Vindication and Victory Tour. He appeared this morning on the "CBS Morning News," then talked with reporters this afternoon at a luncheon in anticipation of Friday's USA/Mobil Indoor Track and Field Championships at Madison Square Garden. (Moses will take part in the cable-TV broadcast.) Thursday, Moses is scheduled to appear on the "Today" show. When asked why he hadn't spoken about the trial sooner, Moses said, "I didn't have anything to say. The verdict spoke for itself. I wanted to let everyone think about it for a while."
But Moses was certainly not reluctant to speak today. Dressed for success in a deep blue suit, white and beige chalk-stripe button-down shirt, bloody mary-red tie and brown tasseled loafers, and very visibly accompanied by his wife, the stylish Myrella, Moses went to the podium and made a long and heartfelt statement in which he expressed his gratitude to the jury and to his friends and supporters who had stuck by him through what he called "this very tough month."
Moses began his remarks saying, "In essence, I'm pleased to be here and have the forum to finally say something. I'm not bitter about anything. From the outset, I stated I had done nothing wrong, and when the facts came out, it would be proven. That's exactly what happened. I broke no laws. I said from the beginning, and I still say it now -- I did nothing wrong."
Although he said that "the toughest part of the trial was going into the courtroom every day facing a wall of cameras aimed at me, and watching them back up step by step in unison," Moses appeared comfortable, almost languid, in the spotlight today. At one point, when it was suggested to him that should he finally -- after not doing so since 1977 -- lose a race next season people might presume he was mentally fatigued by all this extracurricular activity, he laughed and said gleefully, "Good, then I have an excuse already."
He said he and his family had come through this "well" and "in good spirits," despite the obvious fact that the whole affair was "a very embarrassing situation, no doubt . . . I realize the youth of America looks up to a person like me, and from all the letters I've gotten, it seems like they still respect me."
Moses looked over the crowd, saw so many friendly faces and softly said, "Life has a lot of different quirks, a lot of tricky turns. The most important thing is to try to stay on the road, whether you're able to or not."
From the beginning, the overwhelming reaction to Moses' arrest was a sense of compassion for an athlete of his stature, intelligence and dignity. Sure, there was some snickering at his circumstance, coupled with a there-but-for-fortune xhale. But most people, I would guess, were hoping he'd be judged not guilty. Still, even with the acquittal, even with the triumph, as Moses sees it, of law, order and a judicial system that protects the rights of the accused, even with the steadfast public and commercial support, there comes a fresh scar. And wounds heal long before scars fade.
"I'm sure people are going to remember this," Moses said. "People always remember the bad quicker than they remember the good."
Edwin Moses is a great runner, greater by far in his event than anyone has ever been; greater, perhaps, in his event than anyone in any event has ever been. It is a sad thing to think that as fast as he runs, this is not an opponent who can be beaten to the tape in 400 meters, but only in the long run.