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Piling on

I saw where the University of North Carolina recently made the decision that Marion Jones’ basketball jersey would continue to hang in its arena in honor of her role on the 1994 national championship team.  They also said they plan to continue to recognize the records she set in track and field. 

If you’re not familiar with Marion Jones’ saga, it is a sad and all too familiar one.  By the time she won five medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, fame and fortune were already hers.  As one of our country’s most recognized athletes and one of her sport’s first female millionaires, she seemed to be on her way to her wish of achieving her ultimate goal of “being mentioned in the same sentence as Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, or Pele.”    

But then something happened.  It started with rumors that she had taken performance enhancing drugs.  Then the evidence began to mount.  The man who was then her husband (and also a track athlete), tested positive for banned drugs.  Marion used coaches and trainers who had worked with other athletes who used such drugs.  Two people testified under oath concerning her use.  Later, she tested positive for one of the banned drugs but a later test threw the first test into question.  Finally, she confessed to taking steroids and also being involved in a check-cashing scheme.

The consequences came upon Marion faster than any time she had ever posted.  The results of all of her track and field events since 2000 were annulled and she was ordered to give back her medals and awards.  Her lucrative endorsements and business dealings dried up overnight.  She was brought up on charges and her legal fees mounted.  The bank foreclosed on her mansion.  She was forced to sell her mother’s house.  Then she had to declare bankruptcy.  

Now this mother of two is getting ready to go to jail for six months as part of the sentence she received.  In none of this should we feel sorry for Marion Jones nor does she wish us to.  After her sentencing, she said this to the press:

"As everyone can imagine, I'm very disappointed today.  But as I stood in front of all of you for years in victory, I stand in front of you today . . . I respect the judge's order, and I truly hope that people will learn from my mistakes."    

Justice is being served and no one knows it more than Marion Jones.  She’s owned her actions. 

That’s why it’s so nice to see UNC take the stand they did.  In their own display of justice, the university removed the pictures of Jones at the Olympics which were hanging in its Track and Field Hall of Honor.  A spokesman for the athletic department explained their actions saying, “What she did in the 2000 Olympics has been stricken, and it should be  (but) we did not feel there was any reason to take down something she had earned fairly while she was competing here.” 

It’s hard when heroes or heroines fall not to pile on them in our disappointment.  When they have lied and cheated, we feel betrayed.  It’s a real temptation to write them off completely, to leave no room for mercy or even fairness.  It’s a real temptation – but it’s wrong.

There was a man named Saul who was guilty of many things.  He was at least a passive participant in the killing of a man named Stephen (Acts 7:57-8:1), and persecuted others to their death (Acts 22:4-5,26:10-11).  He owned his sins and mistakes and found forgiveness through Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 1:12ff).  But when he tried to associate with the Christians in Jerusalem, they refused to have anything to do with him (Acts 9:26ff).  They didn’t believe him.  Maybe they didn’t want to believe him.  Maybe they were just piling on.

Then a believer named Barnabas stepped in and vouched for him.  He took Saul to the apostles and explained his situation (Acts 9:27).  Saul is better known to us today as the apostle Paul and you know the rest of his story.  I wonder if any of it would have happened if Barnabas hadn’t refused to pile on.

In football, piling on is an offense that is penalized because of the potential harm you can bring to the person who is already down.  It’s not a smart thing to do.  Pile on in football and your team will be penalized and you will suffer the consequences from the coach.

Maybe that’s what we should do - blow a whistle, throw a flag, and penalize people when they start piling on someone who’s down.  Better yet, maybe we should just try to be like the good people at UNC and work for justice and mercy. 
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