Before she publicly admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during the 2000 Olympic games in 2007, Marion Jones was the queen of professional sports. Winning five Olympic medals, garnering a huge endorsement deal from Nike and appearing on a plethora of TV shows, her reputation in sports was one based on grit, heart and most of all, honesty.
When she finally come out and told federal prosecutors that she lied and was sent to prison for six months, she lost everything. That’s essentially where the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Marion Jones: Press Pause” begins. Not ironically, it’s also where it thrives, as the inside look director John Singleton gives viewers trumps the majority of the other footage during the documentary.
Anyone that hasn’t lived under a rock over the past decade knows how much Jones meant to American sports. Considering that, the time the documentary spends setting the scene and showing Jones’ descent from greatest is perhaps too much. At the same time, there are things alluded to over the course of the documentary that are never fully addressed. One source says Jones had negative male influences in her life that didn’t help her make the decisions that she needed to make. However, never once during the documentary does Jones discuss her previous marriage or relationship with BALCO head Victor Conte.
As a matter of fact, you never get the feeling Singleton is even trying. During the documentary, they’re shown side by side, walking, and laughing, hardly an ideal situation for an outsider to learn things about Jones they never knew before. During the course of the documentary, one New York Times writer discusses Jones’ media savvy, saying how she has always been able to wrap sports writers around her finger.
It looks like her talents work on Hollywood directors now too.
Had Singleton effectively “gone there,” [or even tried] this could have been a documentary people would be talking about for years.
The end result of all of this is a documentary that isn’t as strong as some of ESPN’s other 30 for 30 offerings.
Nevertheless, it still has plenty of moments that make it an entertaining watch.
For instance, seeing Jones walking outside of the prison she stayed at for six months and share stories is without a doubt intriguing. For a college-educated athlete and someone who has seen the world, she adjusted to prison quite nicely and actually managed to make friends.
However, here lies the problem. Either Singleton fails to portray the full picture behind Jones’ prison stay or she refuses to be honest with the viewer. Hearing about her time in solitary confinement, you’d think she was in her own lifetime original movie, doing pushups and jumping jacks before the guards could notice. All you need is some Kenny Loggins and you could make an ‘80s montage from that conversation alone.
If this is indeed the true story behind her prison stay, it’s a compelling one. Nonetheless, the question remains if Jones can ever be trusted again.
That’s perhaps why this scene and whole documentary is hard to take at face value.
Regardless of that, the story is still eerily entertaining, due mostly to Jones’ charisma. In spite of everything she’s done over the past decade, her mega-watt smile is still a force and her drive to be the best at whatever she’s doing is still her greatest asset. Seeing some of her WNBA highlights towards the end, you’d have to be pretty cold not to be happy for her.
At the same time, you realize that her fight for respectability is just beginning.
Because of that, a few huge missteps along the way from Singleton can somewhat be forgiven as he paints a picture of Jones that shows us her brightest moments, while getting as dark as he possibly can, showing that her life is completely different than it was before.
And it will never be the same again.