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Despite Justin Gatlin’s cheating past, NBC sees a winner

Justin Gatlin will be one of the stars of the Summer Olympics. That’s not your trusted scribe talking. That’s NBC promoting the heck out of the sprinter, without any apparent sense of shame.

The network has hitched its wagon to Gatlin, who too often in the past has put illegal additives in his fuel tank. In 2007, he was given a four-year ban for using performance-enhancing drugs. At the time, Gatlin’s coach said the athlete’s urine sample had been sabotaged. That would be the same coach, Trevor Graham, who has had eight of his athletes either test positive for drugs or serve a suspension for PED use.

None of this has stopped NBC from using Gatlin in its ads for the U.S. Track and Field Trials, which end Sunday, or for the upcoming Summer Games.

Everyone does indeed deserve a second chance. But it doesn’t follow that everyone who gets a second chance deserves a parade. It isn’t fair to all the athletes who compete clean. Gatlin shouldn’t be one of faces of the Rio Games, but it sure looks like he will be.

Justin Gatlin celebrates after winning the men's 200-meter final during the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

Why would NBC put itself in a position in which it could be badly embarrassed? Does it have information that Gatlin is now an upstanding competitor? Doubtful. Seems like a risky proposition for the network.

NBC likes American winners, a lot, and Gatlin is extremely talented. He finished just .01 seconds behind Usain Bolt in the 100-meter dash at the 2015 World Championships. With Bolt dealing with a hamstring injury, the 34-year-old Gatlin might be able to win gold in both the 100 and the 200 in Rio.

It would be one thing if NBC played up his dark past. Viewers could decide if they see him as someone who has turned over a new leaf or as someone who probably is still cheating. Instead, the network is all but acting as if it never happened.

When it comes to waving a flag and earning profits, there’s no room for the messy past.