Recently, Dennis Mitchell was named the coach of the sprint teams at I.A.A.F World Relays in the Bahamas. In my house – home to two avid runners, one of whom is also a former running columnist – we found ourselves saying, “How could they do that?”, but I realize the majority of you are wondering “Who is Dennis Mitchell?”, so let’s start with a quick explanation.
Dennis Mitchell was a world-class runner who went to high school in New Jersey and was a legend, according to my husband – a four time national champion and an Olympic gold medalist. However, in 1998, Mitchell tested positive for banned testosterone. He was then barred from competition by international officials for two years. During this time, Mitchell never apologized for his mistake, but played the victim. Then, in 2008, he testified that his then-coach hooked him up with banned drugs, including human growth hormone, and that he and Marion Jones (a well-known track star and doper) had sought out their coach about drug use.
Now, six years later, the United States of America Track and Field (USATF) is giving Dennis Mitchell one of their highest honors by naming him as a World Relays coach, and allowing him unfettered access to our country’s track and field athletes. In my opinion, neither Mitchell nor the USATF has shown much integrity in this case. The USATF has had many public relations nightmares over the years regarding drug use… including the scandal surrounding Dennis Mitchell, who never once publicly apologized for what he did. Yet, they chose to appoint him to a position of honor and power, and aren’t addressing his past transgressions.
Don’t get me wrong; I believe in second chances. We all make mistakes and I’m sure it is hard to be a public figure and have your mistakes aired for the world to see. However, I cannot condone a lack of integrity. If you make a mistake, whether it affects your spouse, co-worker, fans or employees, the first thing you need to do is to own that mistake. Truly apologize for what you have done, and find ways to make it better (not come up with every lame excuse in book – cough – Dennis Mitchell).
With the internet, it’s unlikely that your mistake will be forgotten, but it may be forgiven. So make sure you do not forget it either, but instead work hard to turn around that mistake, and avoid similar future mistakes. Someone I believe has truly worked to turn around his mistakes, not ignore them, is Michael Vick. He has never backed down from his dog-fighting scandal, but since serving his time, he has worked tirelessly to change his image and gain a level of integrity many would argue he hadn’t attained prior to his transgressions.