After testing positive for meldonium, tennis sensation Maria Sharapova has been suspended from playing until the case has been reviewed. Following her suspension, her major sponsors, including Nike, Porsche, TAG Heuer, and Evian water have also cut ties with Sharapova. 

Meldonium, a cardiac drug, was just recently added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) banned drug list this year after having been on its Monitoring List in 2015 (Clarey and Tierney). The purpose of meldonium is to increase blood flow, “which improves exercise capacity in athletes” (What is meldonium). WADA banned the drug after finding evidence of its use as a performance enhancer for athletes “by virtue of carrying more oxygen to muscle tissue” (What is meldonium). Before being banned by WADA, the Food and Drug Administration did not approve of its use in the United States and it was also unauthorized in Europe (What is meldonium). 

Sharapova stated that she had been taking the drug since 2006 for “several health issues…including frequent cases of the flu” (Clarey and Tierney). Her attorney John Haggerty stated that ‘Maria was completely unaware there was any performance-enhancing capabilities to it whatsoever’ (Clarey and Tierney). But Sharapova and Haggerty may only be trying to reduce her suspension sentence by making it seems as if she were unaware of using meldonium as a performance enhancer. “The maximum penalty for unintentionally using a prohibited drug is two years” but a player can face a four year suspension if “intentionally ingesting a performance-enhancing substance” for a first offense (Clarey and Tierney). 

Other athletes have also admitted to using the drug, including “Abeba Aregawi, a Swedish runner who won the women’s 1,500 meters at the 2013 world championships” and Russian ice dancer Ekaterina Bobrova who “had tested positive for meldonium at the 2016 European Figure Skating Championships” (Clarey and Tierney).

Sharapova was already out of play due to a forearm injury after losing to Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open so this suspension has yet to interfere with her playing. A bigger blow has come to her paycheck with suspensions from major sponsors. For over a decade Sharapova has been the highest paid female athlete in the world, earning $29.7 million last year (Kennedy). Of that $29.7 million, “$23 million [came] from endorsements and appearances” (Kennedy). Even if Sharapova’s playing suspension is lifted, her contracts with multi-million dollar corporations may not be renewed. 

Growing up watching tennis, Sharapova has always been one of my favorite players. She plays with a certain intensity and grace that not all tennis players have. She’s bounced back from countless injuries and at 28 years old she still remains in the top 10 of rankings of women’s tennis, ranked at number 7 in the world. When hearing the news about her suspension, I lost some of the admiration I had for Sharapova even if she claims she didn’t take meldonium to enhance her performance. Her play lost some of its authenticity for me because some of it might have been induced by the drug. I’ve seen other fans’ reactions on Twitter with similar mixed feelings to my own with some condemning her while others commend her honesty. This incident doesn’t make me think less of Sharapova as a player as she will always be considered one of the best players of all time. It’s more of a let down for me and for other fans I’m sure because she was held in such high regards for her athleticism. 

Tennis player Caroline Wozniacki did not come to Sharapova’s defense as she expressed the importance of checking medications’ approval at a news conference in Madison Square Garden. Number one women’s singles tennis player in the world, Serena Williams, also commented on the responsibility players have to check WADA’s list. But Williams also admired Sharapova’s honesty because it ‘showed a lot of courage about what she had done’ (Bodo). 

It is still unclear when Sharapova’s suspension will be lifted, but Sharapova has made it clear that she does not want to end her career. She “hope[s] [she] will be given another chance to play this game”(Clarey and Tierney) and so do I, along with fans around the world. 

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