Two days ago tennis star Maria Sharapova called a press conference where she announced that she had tested positive for the banned substance Meldonium at the Australian Open. During the conference she apologized for what she called a “huge mistake” which she then followed with a number of excuses, including that the drug she had been taking had only been banned on January 1st of 2016. She maintained that while the updated list of banned substances was emailed to her she failed to follow the link for the document. Her team, including her doctor who should be aware of the rules, failed to keep abreast of this very important detail. She admitted to have been taking the drug for 10 years prior to testing positive for the banned substance and claims she used it to treat an irregularity in her EKG, signs of diabetes and deficiency in magnesium.
Since her admission a number of details have come to light that questions the credibility of her excuses. Arguably, she has undeservedly been the highest paid tennis pro for 15 consecutive years, earning almost 300 million since she became a pro in 2001. From this, one would assume that she would have one of the best teams around to protect her legacy and massive fortune. To say that so many people dropped the ball in protecting her health and career is unbelievable to say the least.
Meldonium is a known performance enhancement drug used by many athletes across the world. The drug which is banned by the FDA, is used in some European countries to treat Asthenia (physical weakness and lack of energy) its benefits include an increase in endurance, improves recovery after exercise and enhanced activity in the central nervous system. Maria claims to know the drug by the name Mildronate and to not be aware of its other uses,but did her doctors not know that they had been prescribing their patient a drug used by Soviet troops in the 1980’s to improve their stamina while fighting in Afghanistan?
Oddly, a drug she had been using for 10 years had only come to the attention of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in recent years which banned it outright in 2015. It is important to note that manufacturers of Meldonium has stated that the drug is only intended to be taken for a few days or 4-6 weeks at best, yet she has admittedly been using it for years. This raises a lot of questions for Maria, her doctor and her team on why she had been using this widely known performance enhancement drug for years. The drug is not new , though illegal in the US, it has been used illegally for years by athletes all across the board including cyclists ,boxers and wrestlers. With the public only knowing about her use of this drug for two days the information available is already damning, yet the media has labelled her forced admission “brave” and has been careful to word their reporting of it to inspire empathy. Maria Sharapova is a cheat, that is essentially what she is, but the media have continued their obvious bias towards this “star” athlete. This practice is not new and is evidenced by the many articles comparing her and her “rival” Serena Williams. I dare say had it been Serena she would have been demonized and verbally assaulted in the media by now, a practice not unfamiliar to them.
Serena Williams who was born in Michigan USA , is undoubtedly the reigning tennis champion of her time. Of the 21 matches she has played with Sharapova she has won 19 times. Serena has 69 titles to Maria’s 35, infact Serena has almost more Grand Slam titles than the whole WTA combined. Serena is also the number 1 ranked female tennis player and has been for years while maria is 7th. Despite these amazing career wins by Serena, Maria who is Russian is the darling of the tennis world and the undoubted favorite of american tennis fans. She has consistently earned more than Serena during her career through endorsement deals with brands like Nike and Porsche. According to Forbes despite being number 1 ranked by the WTA Serena was out earned by seven of the other tennis players on their 2015 list. Maria herself earned almost 300 million throughout her underwhelming career, earning generally 10 million more per year than Serena.
Despite Serena’s successes if you were to listen to or read what is often reported, Maria is the star of the tennis world. She , along with several media pundits, have for years complained about Serena’s unfair physical advantage. There is no shortage of articles questioning Serena’s gender due to her size. By all accounts however there is only a 20 lb weight difference between the two and at 6’2 Maria stands 5 inches taller than Serena so who has the advantage here? (see picture below for comparison )In addition to having her femininity questioned and having a foreigner and a comparatively underwhelming player being favored over her by her own country men, Serena is often blamed for the general perception of her in the media. Her “bad attitude” has been offered as the reason for the disparities in endorsement deals and earning between her and Sharapova despite Sharapova not being a true “rival” to Serena for years.
I dare say with the current narrative praising Maria’s “bravery” and asking the public for sympathy, had the shoe been on the other foot Serena would not have been treated the same. If she had admitted to testing positive for a banned substance she had been taking for 10 years she would have been vilified, degraded and calls would be made to strip her of her titles. While there is a racial undertone to the difference in treatment between the two women, what has also been called to attention is the question of beauty and how advertisers use this standard to promote their goods. Questions like why is Maria considered beautiful by the main stream while Serena, a beauty in her own right is not. It also questions why despite being the better tennis player(the best of her era in fact) is Maria seen as the better choice to promote Nike and Porsche’s products. While these two companies as well as others have suspended their relationship with Maria the rest of the world seem to be treating her dishonesty and Cheating with kid gloves, empathizing with her instead of admonishing. In spite of her cheating she still has not fallen from grace in their esteem, in fact, there have been numerous social media post in support of her.
It is certainly amusing to note that despite being on a performance enhancing drug for 10 years she has still failed to beat world champion and number 1 Serena Williams. I hope this finally puts to rest any doubt of Serena’s natural gift. I for one shudder to imagine what would have happened had it been Serena who admitted to such an unspeakable act, but I am glad we will not bear witness to what would have been an undoubted lynching.