Celebrity tennis player’s suspension again raises “birds of a feather” doping concerns
Tennis superstar Maria Sharapova’s corporate sponsors (no less than Porsche, Nike, and TAG Heuer) have burned rubber, fleeing in record time from any further association with the athlete/spokesmodel. Why? Because she used meldonium, a banned PED (performance-enhancing drug) in her sport? No, it was because she admitted she used the PED.
Of course, multi-billion-dollar brands have every right to disassociate themselves from the spokespeople they hire. None of the above-listed names, including Sharapova, will take too big a hit in the pocketbook.
What keeps taking big hits is the old-fashioned American value of integrity. Again, this isn’t meant to condemn one tennis star for an indiscretion – the indiscretion being her admission, since reports as recently as today say the use of meldonium is widespread in professional-level sports. The negativity really spawns from the first transaction; from the first time a dope seller accepts, and an athlete offers, payment for the drug. The corrosive energy multiplies when the sportsperson takes the drug.
“Right there!” as Howard Cosell famously exclaimed. That’s precisely when the temptation is planted for other athletes to just do it (too). Injecting PEDs into any competitive sport for the first time cannot be overstated as the singular event that causes all the rest of the trouble. By definition, it’s competition. Doping moves the competition from the court or field-of-play into the locker room and other hidden corners.
Let’s face it. Sanctioning bodies, from MLB to the NFL to the WTA, haven’t the slightest idea of what to do to keep PEDs out of their leagues. No “workable” idea of what to do – in their minds – I should say. A full-season suspension as a penalty for a first-time offense would certainly do wonders, for example. Would notorious repeat offender Alex Rodriguez of Major League Baseball have continued to dope if he had been removed from the game for a whole season the first time? Likely not. “But an entire season with no ‘A-Rod!?’” one can imagine club owners and players’ union reps griping.
Rodriguez was a rising superstar for the Texas Rangers when he first tested positive for PEDs. A season-long suspension would have been devastating to the Rangers and at least painful for MLB. Do I even need to specify that I mean devastating money-wise and money painful?
One might say, “Well, sure, money makes people greedy. We all know that.” But isn’t it more like money becomes a substitute for truth? For some people – and we can look at college and pro sports, the pharmaceutical industry, Wall Street, ad infinitum – if it makes money, it’s true! Even those who acknowledge they are lying have created a belief system, at some point, wherein money erases lies. “Everybody lies to make a buck, don’t they? Only suckers play by the rules.”
Rodriguez is still an active player and soon Sharapova will be, too. Their ilk marches on, but Dr. Martin Luther King said, “The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood – it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on.” They will retire, and they will want to be included in the halls of fame of their respective sports. As the misdeeds and names of the cheaters slowly fade into oblivion, the games will live on.
My upcoming novel DEADLY PRESCRIPTION focuses on the criminal underbelly of the pharmaceutical industry. The book of fiction is based on fact and, as we see every day in the headlines, the opposite is also true.