Sharapova’s Grand Mistake

19610b0By: Jennifer Titus

Five-time Grand Slam Champion, Maria Sharapova, just got grand slammed. Sharapova failed her drug test after a lost to Serena Williams on January 26 at Australasian Open.

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The world’s highest-paid female athlete, Maria Sharapova who is 28-years old, has been playing tennis for 24 years. On Monday, she surprised reporters. The rumor was she was retiring, but she announced her positive drug test results instead. She said “I thought it was very important for me to come out and speak about this in front of all of you… I made a huge mistake.”  Sharapova had been warned five times through emails, pamphlets, and a letter about this drug banning, and now maybe facing a ban of her own.

The newly banned drug goes by the name “meldonium” and has been proven to be used by athletes for maximizing exercise ability “by virtue of carrying more oxygen to muscle tissue.” Sharapova had been taking this drug for 10 years. Sharapova confesses to using the drug and quite frankly, something doesn’t seem right. Whether her reasoning is true or not, it is her responsibility to ensure she is checking the banned list for all substances she is taking. The headlines from Daily Mail and BBC are reading “failed drug test” which is framing the story around the fact that she has failed, but not around her reasoning.  Framing is the act of selecting certain aspects from observation, and making those specific aspects more prominent than other details. Frames have consequences. Frames define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgments, and suggest remedies.

Maria Sharapova has been speaking out to share her side of the story. Her doctor legally prescribed this drug to her, but under a different name “Mildronate.” She began taking Mildronate 10 years ago because she shares, “I was getting sick very often… I had a deficiency in magnesium. I had irregular EKG results, and I had a family history of diabetes and there were signs of diabetes.”  The ban on the drug went into effect on January 1, 2016 but she continued her use for at least 25 more days after the ban took effect.

“The drug… is said to have become a drug of choice for Russian athletes implicated of cheating in other sports.”

The problem is that Sharapova missed five warnings and has been taking the drug illegally. In fact, that is what the headlines read.

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She said she was unaware of the changes, but said it was a “mistake” at her press conference. So what is the truth? Sharapova writes in a Facebook post:

“in order to be aware of this “warning”, you had to open an email with a subject line having nothing to do with anti-doping, click on a webpage, enter a password, enter a username, hunt, click, hunt, click, hunt, click, scroll and read. I guess some in the media can call that a warning. I think most people would call it too hard to find.”

Daily Mail quotes Ben Nichols from WADA, World Anti-Doping Agency, said it was being banned for its “evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance.” Seeing that the drug has been proven to be used to enhance performance among athletes, Sharapova’s long-time use does not help her claims. Sharapova says the cause for taking the drug is for her health condition, as she has a family history of diabetes and has been taking it as prescribed by her doctor.

Sports Illustrated sat down with her attorney, John Haggerty, states: “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 also states “It was only for these 25 days in January that she had something in her body that was a prohibitive substance.”

Headlines reading “failed drug test” can question her moral judgments. Her claims about why she is taking the drug are questionable, though. How much longer would she have been taking the drug if she had not been caught?

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Sharapova has been caught red handed. Sharapova says she accepts responsibility but says that her unknowingness stemmed from how difficult it was to access the banned list. Sharapova shares on her Facebook post:

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“There was also a ‘wallet card’ distributed at various tournaments at the beginning of 2016, after the ban went into effect. This document had thousands of words on it, many of them technical, in small print. Should I have studied it? Yes. But if you saw this document (above), you would know what I mean. Again, no excuses, but it’s wrong to say I was warned five times.”

It seems as though Sharapova was intentionally taking this drug as a performance enhancer therefore should be punished- but to what degree? When an athlete intentionally takes a banned substance they can be punished for four years, but if an athlete unintentionally took a banned substance, then the punishment is only two years.  Sharapova broke the story in her efforts to be up front and honest, maybe hoping to control the story more. She says in her Facebook post that she is “fighting back” against the media, for “fail[ing] to accurately report the facts” of the story. She is hoping that her unawareness of banning in combination with her proof of doctor’s prescription will help her to have little to no repercussions.

The implications of the results are huge- if they choose to forgive her, then every time someone creates a sob story, will they be let off the hook? Headline from the Daily Mail reads: “’I feel cheated’: Tennis star who faced Maria Sharapova five times in her career slams the Russian pro over failed drugs test, insisting she should be given the ‘utmost penalty‘” referring to Ashley Harkelroad who says that regardless of Sharapova’s story, “this drug enhances your ability to play above and beyond your natural capabilities.”

This is classic example of the old saying “there are two sides to every story” and in this instance its Sharapova’s story and the media’s story. It will be interesting to see the verdict the International Tennis Federation comes out with and if her sponsors like Nike continue to do business with her in the future because she is one of 99 other athletes  who have tested positive for this drug. The media has shaped this story to be all about Maria Sharapova, so that when “meldonium” is searched, her name is part of results.

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