Marion Jones, a record-breaking Olympic track star who admitted in 2007 to using performance-enhancing drugs and served time in prison for making false statements to investigators, is featured on the Nov. 19 episode of the TV One network's "Life After" show. The cable series, in its fourth season, explores the turning point in celebrities' lives.
Jones won five medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics but forfeited them after admitting to using drugs and lying to a grand jury investigating performance-enhancing drugs. Today, she's a public speaker and author and has turned a dark period of her life into a learning experience for others with her Take A Break program, which encourages people to think about the potentially life-altering consequences of their decisions.
Jones lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Obadele Thompson, and their three children: Monty, Amir and Eva-Marie. She spent a few minutes talking with Playbook about her life after.
Did you have any apprehension about doing the show?
"Being honest with you, I didn't know much about the show. We always have a little apprehension anytime anyone approaches me wanting to talk about my life and my history. We're very cautious when we pursue certain things or agree to certain things. I'm not interested in dealing with any controversy. It's OK to reflect on the past, but we're moving forward. I want to focus on what I'm doing, and that's what the show did. I was then excited about it."
Are there still a lot of haters out there?
"The haters. I haven't heard them called that in awhile. OK, we'll go with that. I think people generally put celebrities -- I'm not necessarily putting myself in that group -- on a certain level. They are expected to do right and expected to be great. And that allows people the opportunity to look at what could possibly happen in your life. That is what everyone is striving for. You see the heroes that you emulate. But when they make poor choices, it's hard to swallow. I get that. I understand that."
And when the heroes don't live up to that ...
"There are a lot of peole who will never forgive me for my poor choices. I don't really spend a lot of time thinking about them. There was a time right after it happened that I did. I was having a hard time coming to grips [with] having let people down. I would be spending the rest of my life apologizing. I could only move forward. That's why I was honored they included me in their show. They wouldn't have wanted me if I were just a couch potato who made poor choices and was just receiving unemployment checks and drinking some cold ones. I messed up, and I'm doing something to contribute back to community. I'm helping people to make the right choices."
What's it like when you meet people now?
"It's truly enriching. I find that young people are very transparent. They might have read something. Their parents might have told them something. But when they hear me speak, they have their own opinion. It's a lot easier to talk and deal with young people instead of speaking in front of corporations, churches and grown-ups. It's very refreshing to talk to a high school or college. Young people are real. The questions are direct. 'Why did you do that?' They don't beat around the bush. 'That was dumb,' they would say. It would be wonderful if my reality was that I would travel and talk solely about my incredible accomplishments. But I talk about my mistakes. I have to relive it over and over again."
And how tough is that?
"It's a constant challenge for me. But when a parent or a young person comes up to me after or a week or a few months later, and said they were in a tough situation and, like me, took a break and took a step back, it makes all the difference. It's worth it. I sacrificed my time away from my family to speak. But talking about these hard times is really making a difference."
What was your reaction to Lance Armstrong being banned from racing for life and having all his results disqualified for using performance-enhancing drugs?
"It's been a long process dealing with the backlash from his whole situation. It wasn't an overnight thing. I've been asked the question for many years. There have been other athletes in similar situations since everything happened to me. My response is pretty much the same: I don't know their situation. The media loves to lump us together. That would be a pretty big bag to hold all of us who made poor choices. I don't know their life. My situation is different. I've moved past it. I could tell you about my journey and how it was for me and how I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I wouldn't know what he's dealing with. I'm not the expert. All of these are different. So people don't even need to ask me. I don't have anything to contribute. I'm not hiding. That's just not my story."
Do you even know Lance?
"I've met him a couple of times. He seems like a nice guy. Unfortunately for fans and young people, if it's indeed true, that's very sad. I don't know the ins and outs of that cycling world. If he's dealing with a heavy burden, I'll pray for him. I had to live with the burden for a few years. I know how hard it's been to carry it around. I hope he gets closure. If he didn't do it, unfortunately for him and unfortunately for his fans, it's hard all the way around."
So besides speaking, what about your WNBA basketball career?
"I made the team in Tulsa. I played a season and a half. I got cut in 2011. I thought about going back. I'm a competitor. I don't think I lived up to my expectations. It was a huge sacrifice for me because I was married with a family. My husband has been incredible through all of this. He's been there the past five years. He allowed me to fulfill my dreams and he was the caretaker of the kids. He now is going to law school at the University of Texas, and I'm the caregiver. I could make it back to basketball shape but there are more important things in life."
You sound like you're in a really good place.
"Sure. You sound so surprised by that. I'm not at a low point. Most people want to bring up the past so we're always naturally cautious. Sometimes my people have their walls up to see what's coming my way. I'm excited to see the final cut of the show because I'm excited where I am at now. I'm at a good point in my life."