Bob Kravitz of the Indy Star says both USATF and Gatlin share the blame for the most recent doping scandal:
They knew Justin Gatlin was dirty. The people who presented the national track and field meet at IUPUI — that would be Indianapolis-based USA Track & Field — learned five days before the meet that Gatlin's "A" sample had tested positive for testosterone. And yet, they couldn't do anything to stop him from running and didn't do enough to stop the promotion of Gatlin as the meet's star attraction.
Does anybody else feel like they've been party to a giant fraud?
"The vast majority of what people saw in June was real; it was athletes doing it the right way,'' USATF CEO Craig Masback said Wednesday. "Anyone would have a right to be disillusioned by the news that's come out since then. But we just need to bring out more athletes in the run-up to next year's event to talk about the sport and doing it right.''
You mean, like Gatlin? The guy who sat down with me two days before the meet, his positive test in his back pocket, and talked passionately about his leading role in cleaning up the sport during this post-BALCO era?
If they tested for it, he would come up positive for chutzpah.
Maybe that's why he's so fast; he's not weighed down by a conscience.
I'm not here, though, to castigate Gatlin. That's just too easy.
I'm here to ask, what did USATF know and when did it know it? If it knew Gatlin tested positive, why was he allowed to run here? If it knew, why didn't it make a point of yanking down all the promotional material around town that featured Gatlin as the meet's marquee attraction?
I asked Masback these questions because:
Gatlin learned of the positive test result June 15, and USATF was informed the next day. The meet began June 21.
He was allowed to compete in the nationals because USATF had no choice but to allow him. Federal law states that until an athlete receives due process — and that means testing positive for both the "A" and "B" samples, then getting a proper hearing — he or she cannot be banned from an event. At that point, Gatlin only had a positive "A." Since then, the "B" has come back positive, and Gatlin's legal team is preparing to appeal the findings in front of a United States Anti-Doping Agency panel.
"Unless we proposed to openly flaunt the law, we can't stop someone,'' Masback said.
In other words, Masback couldn't run around town, screaming, "Gatlin is a doper, but we can't stop him from competing!'' He couldn't tell sponsors, or IUPUI, or the Indiana Sports Corp.
"We're put in a very difficult position of walking the line between what I would call the right thing and the legality of the situation,'' Masback said. "What I couldn't do was breach the confidentiality of the process.''
What he could do, though, was ask Gatlin to refrain from competing.
According to several reports, Masback approached Gatlin and his representatives the week of the meet and requested they pull out. Gatlin's mother recently responded to those reports by saying Masback never asked her son to pull out of the event. Masback would not address those reports.
Masback did acknowledge, though, that once he learned of the positive test, his organization pulled Gatlin out of a number of sponsor-related appearances around town.
So knowing what they knew, why not at least stop using Gatlin as the meet's advertising centerpiece?
Here's where it gets dicey. Masback said that given his obligation to Gatlin's legal rights, he couldn't make a show of tearing down all the flagpole banners and posters bearing the sprinter's likeness.
"Logistically, I don't know if that could have happened, anyway,'' Masback said. "But that was a necessary casualty of the legal situation.''
Sorry, but if USATF knew its star attraction was tainted, every piece of advertising that featured Gatlin should have been pulled. Immediately. Whatever it took.
I can accept that Masback was in an impossible position, forced to balance the athlete's right to due process and the consumer's right to full disclosure.
I can't help but feel, though, that at some level, the ticket-buying public was duped. The organizers knew Gatlin was dirty beforehand, and couldn't/didn't do much of anything.
"This is not just an athlete who won multiple championships; this was an athlete who, from all appearances, got it,'' Masback said. "This is terrible for our sport, and referring specifically to Indianapolis, I'm terribly troubled that this incident — I call it an incident, but for us it's a tragedy — occurred in a year when we had the championship in our hometown. There's a breach of trust when you put on a show that has a question mark over it.''
I asked Masback how he felt, watching Gatlin soar to victory, knowing what he knew.
"I had to watch with mixed emotions,'' he said. "This is an athlete who has grown up on my watch. I've thrilled at his successes. I felt and still feel very badly for him. And I knew we were breaching that trust, with the local community in particular.''
Good luck selling this event next summer.