BALCO Plea Deal May Keep Stars Off Stand

A guilty plea by Victor Conte, founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), may spare top athletes from testifying about steroids. Tandaleya Wilder of NPR station WSHU in Fairfield, Conn., host of the Web-based show She Got Game, tells Jennifer Ludden how the decision affects track star Marion Jones.

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JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jennifer Ludden.

On Friday, the owner of a California drug lab pled guilty to distributing steroids to more than 30 football, basketball and track stars. Victor Conte, owner of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, or BALCO, also admitted to money-laundering. The plea deal could mean less prison time for him, and it could also keep a number of high-profile athletes from having to take the stand and answer questions about drug use.

Tandaleya Wilder hosts the Web-based sports radio show, "She Got Game," and she joins me now.

Hi, Tandaleya.

TANDALEYA WILDER reporting:

Hi, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: So a number of star athletes have been tainted in this scandal, including baseball players Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, and then the Olympic sprinter, Marion Jones. We should say there's no proof that these athletes have used performance-enhancing drugs, so can you tell us where these allegations are coming from?

WILDER: Well, in the case of Marion Jones, she's been linked to the BALCO steroid scandal. Her ex-husband, C.J. Hunter, a former Olympic shot putter, and Victor Conte, the president of BALCO, both claim she used steroids. Against the advice of his attorney, Victor Conte went on national television and made allegations against Marion Jones, claiming that she used steroids and that he actually saw her inject steroids into her leg, and that she allegedly had been using steroids for--over the course of her career.

LUDDEN: Now Jones has had some pretty testy exchanges with the press throughout the course of this scandal. How badly have these allegations hurt her reputation?

WILDER: These are just not the best of times for Marion Jones. Here's an athlete who holds five Olympic medals, was once considered the fastest woman alive, has millions in endorsements, and now she just can't seem to get from under this cloud of suspicion about steroid use. I mean, is it fair? Who knows? I mean, she's never failed a doping test. She denies ever using steroids, but the perception is really hurting her career. And as you know, in big-time Olympic sports like track and field, image is everything.

LUDDEN: Now Marion Jones has fought back against these allegations. Tell me about that.

WILDER: Yes. You know, she filed a defamation lawsuit against Victor Conte last year seeking $25 million and alleging that he really tarnished her reputation in those statements made on national television. In her suit, she said she passed a lie detector test and also she included a statement from her doctor saying she never used steroids.

LUDDEN: Can you tell us what's next now for Marion Jones?

WILDER: Well, she's obviously very disappointed that her hip injury has taken her out of commission. She had really planned to participate in the world championships in Helsinki, Finland, next month, but she's reportedly not going to do that, and her agent says she's going to try to heal and hope to run some of the big races on the European circuit later in the summer.

LUDDEN: Tandaleya Wilder hosts the Web-based sports radio show, "She Got Game," and she joined us from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Thanks, Tandaleya.

WILDER: Thank you, Jennifer.

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