Tuesday, October 11, 2016

This Week with WTA: The rage edition, Vol. II, starring Maria Sharapova

Honestly, I didn't expect to go off as much as I did on Steve Simon in the last post, but he had it coming. But I have more to rage about. One more small development this past week in tennis was the final verdict on the Maria Sharapova suspension. Now, if you want to talk about special snowflakes, let's talk about Sharapova.
Her drug ban was shortened by the ITF to 15 months, down from two years. I have to confess that the response to this was not nearly what I would have expected. Sharapova's rock-of-ages sponsor Head released a statement that included the word "congratulations." To their player. For a drug ban that she is serving out. Confused yet? No? Let's continue. This way please.
Sharapova also reacted as though this was a victory and is now pushing back at the ITF, threatening legal action. About a drug ban that she is serving. For taking a banned drug that she definitely took. OK.
We could go there for sure about meldonium, and what it really did for Sharapova. If this drug was taken because she has concerns about heart disease that runs through her family, as she initially said, then what is she going to take now? Surely not a Bayer aspirin like other humans.
It's confounding to me that one would not only celebrate the shortening -- not the elimination, now -- of a drug ban of which you are guilty, but then get aggressive and threaten the tennis ruling parties that be. I am assuming that she and her team are operating under the assumption that few people are actually going to bother to read these findings. So I decided to read the ITF's ruling myself, instead of relying on news stories about it. It can be found here, and the parts that are in English are very, very interesting. It's also very long. But here are some takeaways that blew my mind. I took some screen caps and highlighted the salient points because I care about you and your time:

Oh, yes. Cause for celebration. Sure!

That's right. Put the sound speakers right over in that corner.

Do we have enough balloons?

We're gonna need alcohol, too! Yay to all of this!!

Hey, girl! We met at Harvard this summer, right? Save a seat for the lawyers! And the Head sponsors! Party. Is. Over. Here.

Woot! ...?

I sort of understand the reason the ban was shortened. If Sharapova had known that meldonium or mildronate was a banned substance, she would have stopped taking it. I do believe that, because she would have been stupid not to.
But the fact that she took it and never really told anyone about it is suspicious. OK, so she never told any of her doctors since 2013-ish that she was taking this drug because no one asked?!! Raise your hand if you've ever been to the doctor and filled out those arduous forms. Have any of those forms ever not asked you what drugs you are taking? If none of her doctors ever asked her what drugs she was taking, then her doctors are worse than any doctor I have ever visited. I have trouble believing this could be true.
You can deduce a lot from this document, can read between the lines one way or another. What you can't dispute is the part of this document that is agreed upon by all involved. Maria Sharapova was taking this drug long after it was prescribed her, and she didn't tell anyone, except two people, that she was taking it. If you have a heart or diabetes problem and you are an athlete, and you have a team, that team should know and understand your physical limitations -- and any medication necessary to curb it, along with side effects. I would be similarly find it odd if Venus Williams took meds for Sjogren's Syndrome and told none of her people about it.
We will never know for sure why, of the battery of 30 drugs she started out taking with her doctor in Russia, she chose to continue taking three, one of which was meldonium -- even after she ditched the doctor. We will also never know why, once she made that call, she chose to keep it to herself, especially if she was taking it for its prescribed purpose. (For the record, I don't think she was taking it for its prescribed purpose.)
You can draw conclusions, though, such as the idea that this is really Sharapova's fault. It's not on her team or her manager. It's on her. She chose not to tell anyone.
Having read that document actually makes me more confused. Why is Sharapova celebrating and wanting to fight this? And why on earth would you threaten to keep this going? Because if I were her, I would really not want people pursuing this any further. It is not a cause for celebration. Well, there is one thing to celebrate if you really wanted to draw one thing out.
Yay, technicalities!?

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