Special to Page 2
The World Anti-Doping Agency reeled in a big fish when Justin Gatlin tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. But it still appears to be light years behind the crooks it continues to chase.
Gatlin, once a world-class sprinter, is staring at a lifetime ban from competition after the second positive test of his career. Considering all the yapping Gatlin did about being a rare drug-free track superstar, this really looks bad.
But there's a chance Gatlin, 24, could avoid a permanent ban. If he's willing to tell the WADA what he knows about his coach, Trevor Graham, being involved in distributing steroids, the WADA will be kind enough to reduce Gatlin's suspension to eight years.
Umm, is an eight-year suspension really much of a deal? That's like paying half-price for the Brooklyn Bridge. Were he to try a comeback at age 32, Gatlin would be older than Ben Johnson was during his lackluster postsuspension comeback attempt.
But it seems Gatlin is really considering singing for The Man. He has little to gain from this besides the chance to somewhat redeem some of his reputation -- although it's unlikely many people will believe half of what he says. Few people like snitches, and even fewer believe them.
At least we know Gatlin's not worried about his "street cred." Judging from that "Stop Snitchin'" fad, the kids won't have much love for Gatlin if he becomes a stool pigeon.
But since the guy he's snitching on, Graham, is also a snitch -- he ratted on Victor Conte and C.J. Hunter, according to "Game of Shadows" -- this is pretty funny. It's widely assumed that Graham gives the juice to his athletes, and the WADA may be able to shut him down without giving up anything.
Clearly, the doping watchdogs have been approaching things the wrong way. Instead of spending money on expensive testing systems and trying to keep up with rogue chemists all over the world, they should have been preparing bogus trades to get juicers to sell out their accomplices!
Guinness must be the official beer of the WADA, because this is brilliant!
Or, on Gatlin's end, foolish.
Anyhoo, this strategy could have been employed in a host of situations. Below are some other things the WADA might be able to pull off, and the cunning negotiation techniques it should employ.
1. Dusty Baker agrees to tell George Mitchell everything he knows about Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and steroids. But only if he is spared from managing the Cubs next year, despite how badly the team wants him back.
2. In exchange for detailing all the mistakes he made at Virginia Tech, Dolphins all-purpose man Marcus Vick would be reinstated. Never mind the minor detail that, you know, he's a pro now.
3. Fabrice Morvan of Milli Vanilli would tattle on others who lip-synch in the music industry. But only if he is allowed to try to reclaim his Grammy for Best New Artist in the next five years.
4. Rhett Bomar details for the NCAA the improper benefits both he and other teammates received. But not unless he's promised a spot on Oklahoma's 2010 roster.
5. Conte drops dimes on his former clients, but only if someone promises to listen to him reminisce about the old days with Tower of Power. (Sadly, that scenario is quite plausible.)
6. O.J. Simpson finally reveals the whereabouts of the real killers, so long as his name is in consideration when Tony Kornheiser remembers how much more comfortable it is to watch football on a couch than in a booth.
7. Floyd Landis agrees to talk about his supplement guru, Jasper Newton Daniel of Lynchburg, Tenn. But only if someone else is paying for the first round.
8. Jose Canseco would meticulously detail the drug use of his former teammates, in exchange for a book advance and little more. Oh, right
But as preposterous as most of those things sound, they're not much different than what the WADA hopes to accomplish by going through Gatlin to get Graham. The WADA is surely in a pickle. It can't cut Gatlin a sweetheart deal because of the message it would send to cheaters. However, Gatlin could only find this deal palatable if he: (a) foolishly believed this would cleanse him of the stains of hypocrisy, or (b) really wanted to see Graham go down.
Let's hope he'd do this for the first reason. Because after Graham made a gi-normous fool of himself defending Gatlin, claiming a meanie of a masseuse tried to sabotage him, the sprinter owes the coach a little loyalty. It takes a real friend to tell a whopper like that on someone's behalf. A mother wouldn't even go that far.
But, as usual, the losers in all this are the testers. "Game of Shadows" provided considerable evidence that Graham was tied up in doping, but he has continued to work with top sprinters.
Why? Because the doping authorities can't put anything on him. Hell, they can't even come up with a deal that would make it worth someone's time to roll on him.
Situations like these are why there's never any good news about doping, not even when someone gets caught. When someone tests positive, there's an opportunity to consider how someone got caught and what will happen next. Most are caught because of negligence, and positive tests never lead to any larger crackdown. One guy going down is just that -- one guy going down.
But hey, no one can say the WADA isn't trying hard. It's just too bad that trying, like the deal they're offering Gatlin, isn't nearly good enough.
Bomani Jones is a frequent contributor to Page 2. Tell him how you feel at email@example.com.