Let’s start with the facts, as they’ve been presented: 28-year old Maria Sharapova, the 7th ranked player in the world, is facing a 2-4 year suspension because she failed a drug test at the Australian Open. The drug in question, meldonium, was just added to the banned substance list on January 1st. Sharapova has been taking the drug for 10 years, she says, at the advice of her doctor. Sharapova’s lost three sponsors in the 24 hours since the announcement.
I’m surprised by the ‘cheater!’ outcry from the social media masses. I think it is mostly due to the frosty relationship between Sharapova and Serena Williams, which goes back many years, but got testy in 2013. In tennis, it seems everyone likes one or the other. The feud got messier last year when it was revealed that Sharapova made far more money in endorsements than Williams, despite being ranked lower and almost never beating her. But I’ll come back to that.
First, here’s Sharapova’s lawyer on his client’s use of the drug:
"I want people to know that for 10 years Maria took this substance, which was recommended to her by her doctor after he did an extensive battery of tests to determine what medical conditions were causing her to be sick on a frequent basis. He found that she had abnormal EKG readings, that she had some diabetes indicators and when he coupled that with a family medical history of those issues, as well as low magnesium and some immune deficiencies, it was his job as her doctor to prescribe or recommend the medication that would help her be healthy."
"As it turned out, this was one of them. He checked them all and they were all not on the ban list and she was able to take them. These medications helped her. They brought her back to baseline, they eliminated or reduced some of the medical conditions she was dealing with. So with 10 years she proceeded on and legally and properly took this medication to keep these low-established medical conditions under control."
To me, this doesn’t sound like spin. This doesn’t sound like some flimsy, concocted defense to make their client look less guilty. Yes. I’ve seen the meldonium manufacturer say that people go on this drug for 4-6 weeks, not 10 years. And yes, I’ve seen the meldonium manufacturer say “the substance would not enhance athletes’ performance in competition and might even do the opposite.”
None of that seems to matter to the strawman-building folks on social media. If this was Serena, everyone would be crushing her!
Yawn. This isn’t a Barry Bonds or Ryan Braun situation (yet, at least). Sharapova has had a clean career, never any issues off-the-court, and she’s never failed any drug tests. Is one failed drug test, given these circumstances, really worth a 2-4 year suspension? This is one of those cases where in college football, the NCAA would be so mad, Directional State U would get hit with the death penalty.
Sharapova should get this suspension reduced. But she may need to get her doctor to come out and answer questions for this to go away. And even then, some still won’t find that acceptable. You can’t please everyone.