When former women’s basketball player Tonya Cooper Williams introduced Marion Jones to student athletes Tuesday, she didn’t mention any of her accomplishments on the court or track.
Instead, she introduced Jones as the kid who couldn’t help but dance when a Snoop Doggy Dogg song was played during her college years.
Jones ran track and field and played basketball at UNC before becoming an Olympic champion, only to fall from grace after admitting steroid use.
The athletic department brought Jones to campus as a part of a life skills seminar held each semester for student athletes.
John Blanchard, senior associate director of athletics, said the University selected her because she could offer insight into making good choices and accepting responsibility.
Jones said she jumped at the opportunity to speak to the “family,” who are in the same position she was in about 15 years ago.
“Anytime you get to help your family make better choices, you do it,” she said.
Jones won a national championship her freshman year and brought home five Olympic medals in the 2000 games, but was stripped of those medals in 2008 after admitting steroid use.
“Within 10 months of graduating from the University of North Carolina I was ranked as the fastest female athlete in the world,” Jones said. Her success grew, earning her money and fame.
“But I lost it all, and ironically almost 10 years after graduating from UNC I went from being the media darling of the world … to becoming a convicted felon.”
She said her time in prison deepened her understanding of three life lessons young people are often told: develop good relationships, seek advice before making important decisions and stand up for what is right.
“When you make decisions, it’s on you,” Jones said. “You are responsible for them.”
Jones was placed in solitary confinement for 40 days during her six month sentence. She said imprisonment gave her time to examine the decisions she had made.
“Yeah, that’ll make you confront a lot of things about yourself,” she said.
Jones reminded students that their position as athletes puts a brighter spotlight on them.
“People are going to judge you harder because you came here and they expect great things from you,” she said.
Jones said that she understands the daily pressures athletes face, putting her in a unique position to give advice.
“I am not a teacher or a parent who is looking at their kids or their students and telling them what is in a textbook,” she said. “I have been through it.”
Jones also described her years at UNC as some of the best and most challenging of her life.
She talked about her battles with injury and encouraged the athletes to work through setbacks and learn to define themselves by more than the sports they love.
“I made the mistake like so many of us athletes make. I let my life become defined more by the sport than who I really was on the inside.”
Contact the University Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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