American sprinter and Olympic champion Marion Jones lied to federal investigators about her steroid use, and now she’s heading to jail. For six months! Not only does Jones’s behavior disgrace the track and field community so near to the Beijing Olympics, but the severity of her sentence must also have shocked and scared other professional athletes.

At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Jones won five medals, including gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. Last October, Jones admitted in a tearful speech that she had used performance-enhancing drugs, dating back to 1999. She said that her former coach Trevor Graham gave her the steroid known as “the clear” from that point until 2001. Jones claims that when Graham initially gave her steroids he told her it was flaxseed oil and that she didn’t realize the truth until she left Graham and had stopped taking it. She has since been stripped of all five medals and her name has been removed from all record books.

Jones was charged and sentenced on Friday, Jan. 11 by U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Karas. Jones apologized and begged not to be separated from her two sons, but the damage had been done, and as hip hop artist Timbaland would say, “It’s too late to apologize!”

Jones’s jail sentence sends a strong message to athletes who have used drugs and/or lied about it. Jones was nailed for lying under oath, which proves that even professional athletes won’t get away with telling lies. Jones knew taking steroids was illegal, but she did it for two years. She knew that the consequences for getting caught would be steep — maybe she didn’t know they’d be this harsh, but it’s out of her control at this point.

Professional athletics has become riddled with steroids accusations like a modern day Salem, Ma. Over the past decade, MLB has done an embarrassing job of cracking down on performance-enhancing drug use. Baseball players today have avoided the tough questions up to this point, but they’ll have to start talking soon. Congressional hearings resume Feb. 13 and the truth will come out.

It will be the word of Roger Clemens versus the word of his former trainer Brian McNamee. Clemens has denied using performance-enhancing drugs up to this point, but what will happen when he goes under oath? Will Clemens end up with the same fate as Jones? Will Miguel “Tejada they come, the harder they fall” never play for his new team, the Houston Astros, because he reportedly lied under oath in 2005 when he told federal authorities he never took performance-enhancing drugs?

For years, athletes have hid their drug use by lying to the media, cycling their use of banned substances, and using masking agents so they test negative. But as Bob Dylan would say, “The times they are a-changin’.’’ The federal government is digging its hands deep into this steroids mess and this is bad news for these athletes. Up to this point the punishments levied have lacked consistency and have contained major flaws. Expect things to change with the greater involvement of the federal government.

Jones lied and she’s going to jail, but what about the athletes who confessed to taking performance-enhancing drugs? These athletes are free. Is that fair? What about the fact that Jones is a woman, that she’s in an individual sport, or that track is not one of the four major sports? Jose Canseco took steroids, but he’s a free man and making money as an author, which is ironic because I don’t think he can read. Wait, Mr. Canseco, I apologize. You could easily beat me up.

The truth will come out now that the federal government has taken up the steroids cause and is ready to separate the good from the evil and the innocent from the guilty. Marion Jones is now paying the price and many other athletes might not be far behind her. This is good news for a sports world that is overflowing with suspicion.