LANE ONE: Hey, ESPN (and others), could you educate yourselves on the Olympic world before you talk about it?

John Banner as Sgt. Schultz in the 1960s sitcom classic "Hogan's Heroes"

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One of the genres in which ESPN has been unsurpassed is the sports talk show. Whether in the morning, mid-day or late afternoon, you can find all kinds of people talking in depth about all kinds of sports.

Except Olympic sports, of course.

This was demonstrated once more on Wednesday (7th) during ESPN’s popular “Pardon the Interruption” show, as former Washington Post reporters Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon moved from subjects they know well – the NBA and golf – to why Sha’Carri Richardson was left off the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team.

After Wilbon started the show by noting that this was “National Tell the Truth Week,” the two descended into a discussion about Richardson, her suspension for marijuana during the U.S. Olympic Trials and why USA Track & Field didn’t name her to the Olympic team for the women’s 4×100 m relay.

Asked by Kornheiser if USATF made a mistake, Wilbon did tell the truth:

“Tony, I don’t know.”

But it got worse from there. Both criticized the World Anti-Doping Code rule about marijuana – which continues to be widely debated – then Wilbon went into dreamland:

“We know the rule, should the rule still be there – no – because the country has spoken, and continues to speak about this, state by state, saying ‘we’re not having this any more, it’s not going to be illegal.’ And so once the United States of America, state by state, says this, then you know, [U.S. Anti-Doping Agency] and [World Anti-Doping Agency] and all these agencies and they need to get with the program.”

What? The U.S. does not speak with one voice on marijuana: it is illegal at the Federal level across the country and is allowed for recreational use without penalty in just 18 states out of 50 (13 other states have decriminalized it, so you would get a fine, but no jail time).

In Japan, where the Olympic Games will be held, marijuana is illegal and punishable by prison terms of up to five years. So WADA is supposed to get with whose program?

Kornheiser commended Richardson for taking responsibility for the violation, but then doubled down on misinformation, making this astounding legal observation:

“My problem overall is that it is a rule and it is not the law. OK, the law – as you point out – varies from state to state, including the state in which she consumed marijuana, Oregon, where it is legal for her to do it. But she cannot seek redress from the courts because it’s not a law. It’s a rule, there’s no due process that she can ask for.”

Maybe Kornheiser should be drug tested. For someone who has been a decorated journalist for a lifetime, Kornheiser simply ignored the widely-available facts about the worldwide anti-doping program:

● The rules under which Richardson was penalized are law. The U.S. Congress specifically said so in 2006 at 21 U.S. Code §2001 titled “Designation of the United States Anti-Doping Agency” and which states that USADA shall:

“serve as the independent anti-doping organization for the amateur athletic competitions recognized by the United States Olympic Committee and be recognized worldwide as the independent national anti-doping organization for the United States” and

“ensure that athletes participating in amateur athletic activities recognized by the United States Olympic Committee are prevented from using performance-enhancing drugs or prohibited performance-enhancing methods adopted by the Agency”

As USADA is a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Code, it is bound to uphold its rules, with the force of law.

● State laws have nothing to do with competitions in Olympic sports, organized by a U.S. National Governing Body, as the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials were. It doesn’t matter if the Trials were in Oregon or Oklahoma.

● Richardson had clear due process options, including an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which hears such cases routinely. But she accepted a one-month suspension – the third handed out this year by USADA for marijuana – because (1) there was no chance of her being exonerated and (2) there are five Wanda Diamond League meets coming up in August and September at which she could earn up to $10,000 for winning an event, starting with a return to Eugene on 21 August, where the women’s 100 m is a featured event.

Is the “PTI” show so bereft of resources that it has no one it can contact for information about Olympic sports when the need arises? ESPN’s talented Olympic writer for 13 years, Bonnie D. Ford, left last December and – so far as can be observed – has not been replaced.

Despite ESPN’s disinterest, there are people in the U.S. who know something about the Olympic Movement. ESPN is not the only media outlet which has made these mistakes, but it does stick out.

Kornheiser was partly right when he said of Richardson, “She’s a star. You know it the moment you see her, she’s a star, and this is a television show.”

Richardson is a star and on the rise. But saying that the Olympics is a television show ignores a few other facts:

(1) In television, people get paid for appearing as performers. That doesn’t happen with the U.S. Olympic Team. There are bonuses for medals, but no money for just making the team.

(2) Don’t tell English Gardner and Aleia Hobbs, who made the team as “relay pool” athletes, to run in the prelims or in case of injuries, that it’s just a TV show. It isn’t for them. Gardner ripped her anterior cruciate ligament in 2017 and was out 13 months, then tore a hamstring at the 2019 Worlds in Doha and three months ago, went through a brutal battle with Covid-19. Should she give up her spot?

Hobbs was thrown out for a false start in the 100 m heats, collapsed in tears, but protested that she made no aiding movement and was reinstated for the final! She’s no. 9 on the world list for 2021 at 10.91.

Making the Olympic team is a zero-sum game, but for some it’s just a TV show. And for them, it’s no wonder that rules, laws, international anti-doping efforts and a strategic view of future fame and fortune make no difference.

Speaking of TV shows, one of the endearing characters in the 1960s sitcom Hogan’s Heroes was the bumbling guard Sgt. Schultz, played by John Banner. In the face of obvious espionage activity by Hogan and his crew, Schultz’s standard reaction was “I see nothing! I hear nothing! I know nothing!

Banner has long passed, but perhaps Schultz could make a comeback? As a sports TV talk show host?

Rich Perelman
Editor

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