Maria Sharapova has done the right thing by frankly admitting that she was guilty of using a banned drug at the Australian Open this year. At a controlled but emotional press conference in Los Angeles on Monday, the Russian-born tennis star apologized to the public and her many fans and said she wasn’t contesting the results of her failed doping test.
“I take full responsibility,” she said. “I let my fans down. I let the sport down. I really hope that I will be given another chance.”
If it was a bad moment for tennis, it was a redeeming one for the highest-paid woman in sports. Sharapova’s graceful, unqualified admission of guilt should earn her a fair hearing by the International Tennis Federation, if not a sympathetic one.
The cynics will say she was merely trying to shape the narrative before she could be branded a sports miscreant, banned for years and face the loss of lucrative commercial sponsorships. And they may have a point. Anyone in her position would try to do some damage control. But she undeniably will face a penalty; the only question is how stiff it will be. And even before her hearing she is already losing contracts.
The five-time grand slam champ was caught using meldonium, a drug she has been using for a decade but that was banned as of Jan. 1 by the World Anti-Doping Agency as a performance-enhancing substance. She had been taking it from her family doctor under another name, mildronate, for irregular electrocardiogram results, a magnesium deficiency and a family history of diabetes.
Sharapova says she got a WADA circular by email in December that indicated the ban on meldonium, but neglected to click on the link and missed the change. She’s the seventh athlete to test positive for the drug since the ban took effect.
It’s now up to the ITF to weigh the credibility of Sharapova’s explanation, the seriousness of her transgression and the appropriate penalty. At age 28, she could be banned for up to four years, effectively ending her career on a note of disgrace. As a first-time offender she may get off with a lesser penalty.
When that decision is made, she should get credit at least for shouldering the blame. Fessing up counts.