Things just seem to be getting weirder with Maria Sharapova in the wake of her admission to doping with the recently-banned substance Meldonium. In what absolutely looked like a set-up pap stroll, the disgraced tennis star was spotted out and about in Santa Monica early last week, all but posing in her very visible Nike gear and “playing beach tennis” for all the world to see. If this doesn’t smack of some PR spin-control guru’s idea of how she will claw her way back into the public consciousness, I don’t know what does.
But the public is declaring “not so fast Ms. Sharapova”. The rather vague and weak stories that she originally gave the press in the wake of her original announcement are already being picked-apart by the public, and it doesn’t look good. Of the many stories that have been circulating this past week about the scandal, perhaps the most damaging one was that by Vanity Fair, which was appropriately titled “Maria Sharapova’s Drug Scandal May Be Darker Than You Think”. The article breaks-down the rather murky storyline rather well, beginning with Sharapova’s vague reasons for why she would be on a drug intended for heart failure patients in the first place.
She claimed that it was an innocent mistake: she said that on the recommendation of her physician, she had been taking meldonium for the last decade because of abnormal E.K.G. readings and concerns about possibly incipient diabetes. She noted that meldonium, which is known to increase oxygen uptake and endurance, had only become a banned substance as of January 1 of this year and said that she had neglected to open the e-mail from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announcing that it was now prohibited.
Yeah. I really don’t buy it either. And as it turns out, nobody did. Not even the drug company that makes meldonium. According to Vanity Fair, “in response to Sharapova’s disclosure, the Latvian pharmaceutical company said patients usually require a four-to-six-week course of treatment that may be repeated twice a year – not a decade of continuous use.”
Oh, and that’s another thing. Sharapova originally told us that she had been on the drug for six years, when actually, it was more like ten. So also there’s that. Add to that Sharapova is a keen entrepreneur with a reputation for having an eye for small detail, a team of experts surrounding her at all times, and a pretty well-honed PR game, and it seems very unlikely that this whole thing is down to the fact that she just didn’t click on an email from the World Anti-Doping Agency. One of several emails, apparently.
So this whole thing about her still doing pap strolls in all of her Nike gear is a little weird. Nike has yet to completely end their contract with her, having only “suspended” it…for now. Tag Heuer on the other hand, has already announced that they will not be renewing her contract, and really, how could they? the longer this drags on, the worse it looks for Sharapova. I’m sure Nike is going to follow Tag Heuer’s lead in short order, pap stroll pleas in Nike attire notwithstanding.
However, Vanity Fair pointed out something interesting when it comes to these pap strolls. In an age of hyper-awareness in brand management, it would seem a bit strange for Sharapova to try to convince Nike to not dump her just yet, but apparently there is a precedent for this.
Last year, Nike signed a deal with Justin Gatlin, the American sprinter who has twice been suspended for doping, which suggests that things are not so cut-and-dry.
Really!? So you can get suspended for doping and sol be a multi-million dollar spokesperson for the brand? Who knew?
One can certainly see why Sharapova would want to protect what might be left of her earning potential. On the back of this scandal, she will be facing quite a lengthy suspension. She has been plagued with shoulder and arm injuries over the last few years, and her ranking has slipped from number two to number seven in the world, and she’s 29 years old – older than you would usually see ion a highly-ranked player on the tour (Federer and Williams being the exceptions to this, of course). A suspension of any length may very well sink her career to the bottom of the sea, and take any remaining sponsorship deals with it.
It also should be noted that Sharapova is not getting a lot of support from the tennis community. After an initial outpouring of support in the wake of the initial announcement, just about anyone who took the time to investigate Meldonium further (including yours truly) will have come to the same conclusion, and it doesn’t bode well for a lot of support from the sport.
Whole tennis world currently googling meldonium.
– British tennis player Alex Ward
Hold on. This is weird. Wada issue their list of banned substances and you don’t look? Nor do management?”.
After the betting revelations this Sharapova news is a hammer blow to the sport
– former British no. 1 Andrew Castle
I’m extremely angry and disappointed. I had to lose my career and never opted to cheat no matter what.i had to throw in the towel and suffer. I didn’t have the high priced team of drs that found a way for me to cheat and get around the system and wait for science to catch up. The responses are exactly what i am talking about. everything based on illusion and lie driven by the media for over 20 yrs. beyond unfair.
– former US player Jennifer Capriati