Dwight Stones has always been an outspoken advocate of athletes' rights, going back to the days when he was setting world records as a high jumper and competing on three U.S. Olympic teams, from 1972 to 1984. Now that he's become a full-time television commentator, he's soaring in a different direction and, better yet, getting paid for his opinions.

He's got lots of them, particularly concerning a "sport I've devoted most of my life to," a sport that is still going through troubled times 18 months before the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

"It's not very good," he said of track and field's image in this country at the moment. "It just seems like the only recognition we get is the result of a drug scandal. Track has gone through a lot of ups and downs the last few years, and right now it's down because of Ben Johnson. It's definitely hurt the sport."

Stones will be in Fairfax Sunday working as the primary play-by-play announcer for the Mobil 1 Invitational track and field meet at George Mason University. The event will be televised live by WETA, Washington's public television station, starting at 1 p.m., and will be carried by 20 other public stations around the country.

Stones is the first to say track and field desperately needs to clean up its act, particularly after Johnson was stripped of his 100-meter title in the 1988 Olympics for using steroids. He will also admit that despite the implementation of a random testing program by The Athletics Congress, the sport's governing body in this country, there are still plenty of athletes willing to risk drug use for better performances.

"Obviously {drug use} varies from event to event, and I would say the incidence of use has gone down somewhat with random testing," he said. "But for people who are making the big money, I would think it's gone up.

"In many of the strength-related events, they had athletes in the Soviet bloc, before the walls came down anyway, who have only been good because of drug use. Some of our athletes have had to do it just to keep up -- what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

"Let's say you have 20 athletes in an event that would have a predisposition to have people using these drugs. Then let's say 19 of them were clean and one guy was a user. Well, that one guy will win. He'll be ranked No. 1 in the world. He'll get the big shoe contract, the endorsements, the appearance money. Then the other 19 start looking at each other and pretty soon, they're saying 'I'd like to be No. 1 too, but I can't do it because I'm clean.'

"It's real easy to rationalize at that level. You say to yourself, 'I'm a jerk if I don't.' They find themselves competing on an uneven playing field, and then they start saying to themselves, 'Why shouldn't I take it?' We're not talking about cocaine or heroin here, we're talking sbout drugs that will help you win. Until we can guarantee no one is doing it, there are a lot of young athletes who are willing to chance it."

Stones said he believes we are getting better athletes through better chemistry because some elite performers have enlisted experts to help them mask drug use and get them through the tests. "There are people with Dr. Feelgoods out there," he said. "If you've got a good chemistry group with you, the gamble is worthwhile."

Stones does not name names nor will he dwell on this subject during Sunday's telecast, though he expects to talk about the situations of Americans Randy Barnes, the world record-holder in the shot put, and Butch Reynolds, the world record-holder in the 400 meters. Both are fighting two-year drug suspensions from the IAAF, the sport's world governing body.

"What we really need is a 30-minute talk show every week on amateur sports to air these things out," Stones said. "You'd get athletes, doctors, coaches. I'd love to do a show like that. We could educate people, and the public does need to be educated. We're not talking about athletes who are criminals; we're talking about people who just want everyone to play by the same rules."

Stones has other concerns as he prepares for the Mason meet. Because the event is on public television, there will be no commercial breaks, and he and colleagues Frank Shorter and Craig Masback, all former world-class athletes, must orchestrate a three-ring circus in what amounts to a nonstop 90-minute marathon of running, jumping and throwing.

The ringmaster will be John Gonzalez, a veteran of NBC Sports who directed that network's track and field coverage in 1988 in Seoul. His contract allows him to freelance certain events, and he has spent the last four months putting together the team that will televise Sunday's meet.

"It's a joy to do," Gonzalez said. "Because we've got 18 more minutes without commercials, that gives us more time to do special features, lengthen them out, and it also allows us to develop interesting story lines as the meet goes on."

He will bring eight cameras and five videotape machines to Fairfax and says the coverage will have the look of any other network production he works on. "It'll be nuts and bolts really, very little experimenting," he said. "The only experiment is Dwight himself. We're starting to slide him more into a play-by-play role. I'd rather call it talent development."

Stones has been doing track and field commentary for years on all three networks as well as ESPN and Turner. Now, he's hoping to secure what he describes as "a significant role" on NBC's Barcelona team as a play-by-play man, a decision Gonzalez probably will help make.

"This is an important meet for me too," Stones said. "It will be my first time doing play-by-play. I'm looking forward to it, oh yeah. It has the potential to be wild, very definitely. But we've got an excellent meet and great people working with me. It's a nice opportunity."