Olympic sprinter Marion Jones invited the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency yesterday to question her in a public forum such as in front of the U.S. Senate, saying USADA possessed no legitimate evidence of drug violations and should have exonerated her long ago.
Jones, a five-time Olympic medal winner, ridiculed the confidentiality with which USADA has conducted its month-long investigation of her, calling the agency a "secret, kangaroo court," and urging that the matter move to a venue "open for the entire world to see, hear and evaluate."
"I should have been cleared a long time ago," Jones said during a news conference in San Francisco that was televised on ESPN News. "I will answer all questions USADA is asking of me. . . . I will answer them in public, in the light of day, so the world can hear the questions, hear my responses, see the information and see for themselves that I am telling the truth."
In a five-paragraph statement issued shortly after the news conference, USADA Legal Director Travis T. Tygart defended the organization's standard protocols and confidentiality rules, saying they were designed to protect athletes.
"If Ms. Jones wants the truth to come out, then we share that goal," Tygart said. "No athlete who has not engaged in doping behavior has any reason to fear, or otherwise avoid, the USADA process. No athlete is entitled to preferred treatment or will be allowed to circumvent that process."
Jones was not among the four U.S. athletes to whom USADA last week sent letters giving notice of potential drug charges, but the agency requested another opportunity to question Jones, who met with USADA for three hours on May 24. Her attorneys have belittled USADA's evidence against her, which includes a coded calendar with the initials "MJ" that appears to document drug use but which is largely indecipherable.
They filed a motion last week asking prosecutors to unseal her grand jury testimony in the federal case involving the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) and have asked that USADA, which has access to documents seized in a federal raid of BALCO last fall, to wrap up its case and publicly clear her name.
"I have been patient," Jones said. "I have been cooperative. I have done all I can do to provide USADA with information that I have knowledge of because I believe in a drug-free sport and a drug-free Olympic team.
"The events of the last few weeks have led me more in sadness than in anger to conclude that USADA is not engaged in a fair process."
Tygart has said the agency would not be rushed to conclude its investigations by anyone or any approaching deadlines. He said in yesterday's statement that the agency typically did not comment on the substance of its work but felt compelled to address "Ms. Jones' baseless attacks on the USADA process."
The "confidentiality requirement was put in place to protect athletes and USADA abides by it," Tygart said. "Athletes are not constrained by this requirement. This means that any athlete including Ms. Jones is free to share all correspondence, documents and information requests they receive from USADA with the public.
"Any suggestion that the USADA process compromises any athletes' rights or is unfair is a blatant distortion of the truth. The truth is this arbitration process is grounded in a federal statute [the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act] and contains all of the safeguards to ensure a fair hearing."
Jones also said she was unconcerned about recent developments in the federal steroid investigation surrounding BALCO, which in February led to the indictments of four men with BALCO ties. Two Bay Area newspapers have reported that BALCO President Victor Conte told investigators that he gave Jones and other athletes steroids, according to an investigator's report.
Jones admitted she received a mineral supplement, ZMA, provided by BALCO, but has repeatedly denied taking any performance-enhancing drugs. ZMA is a legal supplement sold widely, including in vitamin stores. Jones said she received the supplement through BALCO from 1999 to 2001, and said she continues to get ZMA through other sources including GNC, a well-known vitamin store.
Last week, Jones's ex-husband, C.J. Hunter, agreed to cooperate with USADA and federal prosecutors. On Tuesday, Conte promised to help identify U.S. athletes guilty of drug use so the United States could send a clean Olympic team to the 2004 Summer Games if President Bush intervened in his plea deal negotiations.
"The truth is my friend; transparency is my ally," Jones said. "If they tell the truth, I will be more excited than anybody that the information will be made public . . . if the truth is told, my name will be cleared."