Sharapova’s suspension leaves questions unanswered

 Maria Sharapova at the unveiling of her Canon PowerShot Diamond Collection.

Maria Sharapova at the unveiling of her Canon PowerShot Diamond Collection.

The admission by tennis star Maria Sharapova that she has tested positive for the banned drug meldonium offers its share of ironies.

Sharapova – the world’s most financially successful female athlete – has always benefited both by her talent and her looks.

But what looks good on the outside is not necessarily healthy on the inside. Sharapova – a Russian who trains in the U.S. – has a history of irregular EKGs and a family history of diabetes. There are conflicting reports about whether the drug, also known as mildronate, can actually alleviate those conditions. Its reputation as a performance enhancer stems from its ability to increase blood flow.

Sharapova never opened the Dec. 22 email from the World Anti-Doping Agency announcing the ban – although this apparently wasn’t the only email WADA sent. Still, she has come forward to accept responsibility and a suspension, though her lawyer could argue for a therapeutic use exemption.

Questions, however, remain. Why wouldn’t Sharapova reach out to WADA regularly to see what was on the updated list? Caroline Wozniacki, in Manhattan to play BFF Serena Williams at Madison Square Garden on World Tennis Day March 8, said, “Anytime we take any medication, we double- and triple-check. Sometimes even a thing like cough drops and nasal spray can be on the list. So as athletes we make sure not to take something that would put us in a bad situation.”

Given that Sharapova virtually grew up in the U.S., why would she take a drug banned here?

And why were sponsors Nike, Porsche and Tag Heuer so quick to suspend their relationships with Sharapova when they stuck so long with Lance Armstrong (doping), Kobe Bryant (sexual assault accusation), Michael Vick (dog fighting) Ray Rice (spousal abuse) and Tiger Woods (don’t ask). It would be rich indeed if Sharapova – who has benefited from a comely appearance – should be held to a higher standard, because she was viewed as a goddess.

Said Williams – who regularly beats Sharapova everywhere but in endorsements, earning $13 million last year to Sharapova’s $23 million – said, “In sport and in life, there’s always a double standard. Everyone knows that, whether it’s a race thing or sex thing. However, this is a different thing. As Maria said, she’s ready to take responsibility. And that takes courage and heart.