Justin Gatlin, track and field's most controversial athlete of 2014, has had a doozy of a last few weeks. And he's not even running currently.
The 32-year-old sprinter, who won the overall Diamond League series in the 100-meters this year and was undefeated this season in both the 100m and 200m, has been nominated for a host of awards, including the Jesse Owens Male Athlete of the Year by USA Track and Field and World Athlete of the Year by the IAAF, the sport's world governing body. These nominations, based on performance, are deserved. But controversy has stemmed from Gatlin's past doping bans.
Track fans are incensed at the thought of a "drug cheat" being selected for this honor. Nothing new there. Their anger can be especially understood in light of a new study by the University of Oslo, which found that athletes could continue to benefit from anabolic steroids decades after taking them.
Gatlin's peers have either been mum on the issue or openly critical. Germany's Robert Harting, the current Olympic, World, and European champion in the discus, requested IAAF cancel his nomination.
"I cannot stand the fact that I am on the same list with former doping offenders to choose from," Harting said. "And for me that is the reason for my waiver."
Similar to the Baseball Hall of Fame, voting is closed to the IAAF's award, but USATF's selection is lightly influenced by fans, who are voting with their fingers—on Monday Gatlin was tied for a distant fourth behind leader Meb Keflezighi.
But that's not even the weird part.
According to Gatlin's agent, his athlete's Twitter and Instagram accounts were hacked, which led to lewd comments to some of his critics, including the gem "Your mom gives the best blow jobs too." Gatlin's accounts have since been made private.
Travis Tygart, USADA head who pursued Lance Armstrong so doggedly, says that Gatlin should be given another chance. "You have to be cautious about changing the goalposts in the middle of the game based on a few sound-bites in the press from one paper on mice," he told BBC Sport. "That's not fair. What's fair, and what athletes and the public rely on, is a set of rules that are enforced evenly."
There's the court of law and the court of public opinion. The law has allowed Gatlin back into competition, but public opinion hasn't yet come around.
Photo: AP Images