Opinion: Sharapova’s eligibility in question, but not her integrity


Jimmy Miller is a journalism major and managing editor of The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]

Jimmy Miller

Amidst all the retirement fanfare for Peyton Manning and the buzz around the start of NFL free agency, the sports world almost forgot about tennis star Maria Sharapova, who announced in a press conference Monday that she failed a drug test at January’s Australian Open.

The test, administered by the World Anti-Doping Agency, revealed Sharapova was positive for traces of meldonium prior to her match with Serena Williams, another tennis stalwart, in the quarterfinals of the tournament. Sharapova said she’s been taking the drug at the request of a doctor to combat possible heart problems and diabetes symptoms, and she added that she didn’t know the drug was illegal.

The press conference isn’t a big deal just because she gathered the press to admit to failing a drug test, a typically unprecedented action for a professional athlete. Rather, this is a big deal because Sharapova is one of the faces of female athletes who often go underrepresented (and under-appreciated) by sports media and viewership alike. She’s on the short list of female athletes a common sports fanatic could probably ramble off, and up to this point, her only other real controversies stem from feuds with fellow tennis players and the loud grunt she makes when she strikes a tennis ball. She’s also the highest-earning female athlete in the world, according to BBC.com.

“I did fail the test and I take full responsibility for it,” Sharapova said at her presser. “It’s very important for you to understand that I’ve been legally taking the medicine for the past 10 years, but on January 1, the rules had changed, which I had not known.”

I don’t actually know if Sharapova knew the drug was illegal when she took it prior to her match with Williams, but still, neither does anyone else. Some of Sharapova’s critics are calling this “inexcusable” or a “hammer blow” to the sport, but I’d be so willing as to deem it a victory for the integrity of athletes everywhere. She acknowledged she messed up and is ready to accept any forthcoming ban, which could extend to as many as four years.

What else could she have possibly done at this point? Her admission of breaking the rules, then her subsequent explanation in an attempt to clear the air, was really the best thing an athlete could do in this situation. By refusing to address it directly, she would have just cast larger distrust and scrutiny upon herself.

Sharapova may not be innocent of unknowingly taking the drug, and we know she’s not innocent entirely because she already failed the drug test and admitted it Monday. There may be a time where we find out she knew this was wrong ahead of time and did it anyway, which would invalidate the point of my column and further destroy the population’s trust of athletes.

For now, though, I find Sharapova’s actions admirable. Peyton Manning has always been one of my favorite athletes for how he acts like a true role model, and Monday he really acted no differently. However, Manning wasn’t the only athlete who further proved why it’s easy for people to look up to him Monday. Sharapova’s not perfect, but by admitting she was wrong and doing so with such grace, I believe she’ll continue to be a role model for athletes, male or female.