Or “Fool me once, shame on you…”
On Monday, Maria Sharapova, arguably one of the greatest stars on the women’s tennis circuit, announced that she had been taking Meldonium, “a drug originally developed in Latvia for heart patients that aids blood flow and is not approved for sale in the United States,” according to a March 8 New York Times story by Christopher Clarey and Mike Tierney.
Sharapova has been taking Meldonium since 2006. The drug has been recently banned by tennis’ governing body.
The 28-year-old Sharapova admitted using the drug and took “full responsibility.”
Many of the companies which had signed her to lucrative endorsement deals dropped her like a dink shot over the net. According to a story in the business section of today’s Times, Nike, Porsche, and TAG Heuer have either suspended her as a spokesperson or will not renew negotiations for future deals.
As soon as I started the article, I wondered if they would be doing this for a male tennis star in the same situation. Asked and answered:
Nike has also stood by other athletes in their times of trouble, most notably Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant. Nike signed an endorsement deal with the quarterback Michael Vick in 2011 after he had served time in prison for his involvement in a dogfighting operation. (The company had dropped him in 2007, but only after he admitted in court papers that he funded the dogfighting ring and helped kill dogs that were underperforming.)
Part of my questioning of their the motives had to do with Sharapova’s portrayal as a glamorous (read “sexy“) persona. She has appeared as a swimsuit model in at least a couple of publications. I mean, she’s 28! Over the hill!
Sure enough, later in today’s Times piece:
The rush by companies to distance themselves immediately from Ms. Sharapova is perhaps a product of social media, where outrage spreads like wildfire. (It could also have something do with the fact that Ms. Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, is past the prime of her career and her marketing power may be waning.)
Waning marketing power? Hmm, I wonder what that means?
So who will be the face of women’s tennis now? Serena Williams? Sure she has a lot of deals, at least in the U.S., but nowhere near the international branding as Sharapova. And why do you think that is? Some will point to her figure, which pre-body-shaming shamers characterized as too powerful (read “less feminine”). Others, even more troubling, might speak in code about her race (which creates a triple standard?). Read this! Not that anyone should cry over $13 million, but when Sharapova, who can’t seem to beat Williams much on the court, beats her at the bank by $10 million…
On another double standard note that deals with race and class: compare Sharapova’s situation with the lifetime ban that Major League Baseball imposed on NY Mets reliever Jenrry (pronounced “Henry”) Mejia for violating the sport’s drug policy for a third time. In an article by Ben Berkon in the Times, Mejia claimed he was being excessively punished because he dared challenge a previous suspension.
Mejia said that baseball officials told him that if he appealed the punishment for the second doping offense, “they will find a way to find a third positive,” Mejia, who is from the Dominican Republic, said through an interpreter. “I felt there was a conspiracy against me. I feel that they were trying to find something to bring me down in my career.” [My emphasis]
Reporters often note when a foreign player is speaking through an interpreter (although they rarely identify the specific country). Sometimes I feel this is a fallback position in case something “gets lost in the translation,” as the saying goes. I also believe such a disclaimer can serve to fuel xenophobia, with sports pundits observing that foreign-born players, especially from Latin America, often don’t “get” the “right way” to play “America’s game.” (See Yasiel Puig).
Regardless of race or place of birth, how often have we heard an athlete claim he had done nothing wrong or didn’t know what he was taking or that was clean? Even Ryan Braun fell into this trap, firmly stating his innocence and blaming the driver of the truck that delivered his samples for the positive test results. And you know how that turned out.
You want to believe, but time and again you’re disappointed (see Lance Armstrong.)
Anyway, I expect over the next few days we’ll be hearing more about this from people more eloquent and qualified to offer opinion than I.