Forgive us our trespasses

marionjonesAs interesting as celebrity scandals are, celebrity mea culpas are close behind. After Patrick Kennedy, Mel Gibson, Mark Foley and Ted Haggard ran off to rehab as part of their public repentance (and I’m sure at least two of them legitimately needed it), some began to wonder if we’d ever see an apology not tied to a substance abuse claim.

Last week’s apology from athlete Marion Jones seemed different — maybe because she was apologizing for, in part, abusing a substance. After pleading guilty to two counts of lying to federal investigators and admitting in a packed U.S. District courtroom that she took steroids, she issued a statement. Here’s how The Sydney Morning Herald reported it — with the fantastic headline “Turned out, she had feet of clay“:

Track queen Marion Jones wept as she begged for forgiveness from her family, her fans and her country after admitting to being a drug cheat.

The sprint star who swept all before her at the 2000 Sydney Olympics pleaded guilty in a US court to lying to Government investigators when she denied using performance-enhancing drugs.

“I have asked Almighty God for forgiveness … because of my actions, I am retiring from the sport of track and field, a sport that I deeply love,” she said.

In a tearful statement on the steps of the federal courthouse in White Plains, New York, Jones said: “Making these false statements to federal agents was an incredibly stupid thing for me to do, and I am responsible fully for my actions. I have no one to blame but myself for what I’ve done.

In addition to noting her request for God’s forgiveness, Jones also asked for the public’s forgiveness:

I recognize that by saying that I’m deeply sorry, it might not be enough and sufficient to address the pain and the hurt that I have caused you. Therefore, I want to ask for your forgiveness for my actions, and I hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me.

I was curious to see how the media treated her apology. Since it’s a sports story that means we have to look to the sports pages, where opinion mixes freely with the news. Mark Zeigler of The San Diego Union-Tribune was cynical:

Understand one thing, though: This was a plea agreement in federal court, not an admission of guilt born from a heavy conscience or some sort of cathartic personal cleansing. . . .

Jones showed up in White Plains yesterday because she had to, not because she necessarily wanted to. Sooner or later you realize the fish aren’t biting and it’s time to cut bait. Yesterday was merely the act of Jones snipping the line.

Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins had more compassion for the disgraced athlete:

You’re welcome to whatever judgment you have of Marion Jones, whatever recriminations you want to heap on her for using a steroid, and lying to the prosecutors. But anyone who sat in the U.S. District courtroom as she directed her clear, firm plea of guilty to Judge Kenneth M. Karas, and then watched her deliver that shattered emotional apology, her voice cracking on words like “deeply ashamed” and “disastrous,” in front of the cream pillars of the courthouse, was hard pressed to wish much punishment on her.

It seems to me that asking for forgiveness from God or our neighbor — or forgiving others — is something that many religious adherents do regularly. The first of Luther’s 95 Theses was “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent’, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” The Lord’s Prayer — prayed by some 2 billion people worldwide — mentions a little something about repentance and forgiveness. Indeed, repentance is regularly discussed throughout Christendom.

How much more central to the life of an average Christian is this regular posture of repentance than, say, electoral politics? And yet which one gets more so-called religion coverage in America today? Sometimes it seems as if the only story angle reporters have for Christians and sin is the hypocrisy angle. It might be good for some enterprising reporter to use a public apology such as Jones’ as a hook to discuss the complex and vital topic of sin, repentance and forgiveness.

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  • http://lowly.blogspot.com Undergroundpewster

    Understand one thing, though: This was a plea agreement in federal court, not an admission of guilt born from a heavy conscience or some sort of cathartic personal cleansing. . . .

    We all err (sin), and we usually ask God for forgiveness in private (unless we go to confession and even this is in confidence), and then we repent. We do not usually make these things public until we get caught.

    A question that could have been explored was personal repentance (me and God) vs public repentance (me and you).

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K

    This story is a good illustration for Christians of how we are all hypocrites in that we remain both saint and sinner on this earth.

    Another thought is why should she retire from the sport?

    “I have asked Almighty God for forgiveness . . . because of my actions, I am retiring from the sport of track and field, a sport that I deeply love,”

    Sounds like she is playing God by setting up a severe consequence for herself. Is she assuming that is what God wants her to do? Or is she trying to garner sympathy by her self-imposed ban from the sport. I find her statement of retirement intriguing and revealing. Her action seems like running away to me and is something most of us do, of course, but it doesn’t make it the right consequence.

  • http://raphael.doxos.com Huw Richardson

    Mollie, I agree that the hypocrisy angle is about all they use. Zeigler’s comments are very annoying. He seems to be looking for more ways to dig. I rather liked Sally Jenkins’ comments – they were quite refreshing in their compassion.

    But I don’t think I want the media going off with ruminations on “the complex and vital topic of sin, repentance and forgiveness” unless it would be a simple note that Jones belongs to X church and her pastor told her to do Y in public.

    For starters, whose concept of sin and repentance would they use in their ruminations? That is not a common-enough answer even between Orthodox and Roman ecclesial communities to complete the essay without getting into various theological nuances that to the average reader would be painfully boring; but to the True Believer in either camp these are dreadfully important. Let’s start with Eastern “Ancestral sin” vrs. Western “Original Sin”. Or who in the media shall arbitrate between the concepts as understood by “traditionalist” and “modernist” within any community (which, in some ways go back to misunderstandings of either the Roman or Orthodox positions) while painting both with a non-biased brush?

    And this only assumes a Christian view of sin. Judaism is rather different – or so I’ve been led to understand. And quite a few non-Abrahamic persons have no concept of it at all.

    These would make very interesting reading to theology geeks (that’s why I read religion blogs!) but very bad “secular” news, I think – although I think some in the media would turn it into yet another story of Christians who fight one another.

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  • Sarah Webber

    Theresa,

    She’s retiring because it is impossible to compete without steriods. In almost any sport. It’s a sad state of affairs, but every sports reporter I’ve heard on the radio on this topic agrees that this is the reality of competitive sports at present.

  • SouthCoast

    I was deeply disappointed by Ms. Jones’ admission, as I had always admired her. I felt that her public statement was sincere. Btw, using the U-T as an source of responsible, nay, let us say, even competent journalism, is an exercise in down-the-rabbit-hole. The Arkansas Gazette, many years ago, routinely reserved space in its paper to print the latest gassings of the local (to me, in San Diego County) rag, generally with some sarcastic heading or other. Not much has changed, other than the compression of what were once 2 daily papers (morning and evening) into a single bozotic edition.

  • Theresa

    Sarah, it may be impossible to win given current circumstances, but its not impossible to compete. I was really thinking that she could use her talents as more of a mentor/volunteer/coach role, rather than as a competitor.

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