Sharapova picked wrong sport to cheat

Maria Sharapova, who performs in a world without a powerful players’ union, was suspended for two years for a first performance-enhancing-drug violation.

For a drug only this year added to the banned list, one whose performance-enhancing properties are not entirely clear.

Meanwhile, Marlon Byrd, the outfielder who used to play a game that featured a relatively strong union, last month received a suspension half the length of Sharapova’s (162 games, the equivalent of a year) for his second PED violation. For a “growth-hormone-releasing peptide” obviously designed to keep alive the career of an aging (38), fringe player.

In April, Falcons defensive back Jalen Collins, a first-time offender under the NFL’s PED policy, picked up a four-game (one-month) suspension. Should he stumble again, according to the policy hammered out between the league and the players’ union, he would face a 10-game ban. It would require a third violation to reach the level of Sharapova’s punishment (two seasons).

Welcome to the wide and wildly varied world of PED crime and punishment. Who would ever have guessed that tennis, of all sports, would be the one wielding the biggest hammer?

In these examples we see the power that players unions have had at protecting their members from paying heavily for their crimes of chemistry. That’s a disservice to the majority of the membership that plays cleanly, but nobody seems to bring that up often.

They have made quite an example of Sharapova, who until quite recently was the highest paid female athlete in the world (in terms of tournament winnings and endorsements). Tennis follows the dictates of the World Anti-Doping Agency and puts on a very stern face come the penalty phase, where a first violation draws a penalty ranging between two and four years, depending on whether it was determined to be purposeful or unintentional.

Could you imagine a baseball or football player receiving what amounts to a career death penalty for a first violation? The howling would be deafening (and likely justified, too).

Not that tennis is seen to be doing it all the right way. There are whispers in that sport, too, about players who have avoided detection and thrived amid the loopholes.

Sharapova admitted to using a heart medication that was banned this year because of its ability to aid circulation and recovery among the athletic class. It is one that had been commonly dispensed to Russian athletes of all sorts, and one Sharapova had been using for years, before it was included on the banned list. Earlier in her career, Sharapova reportedly was taking as many as 30 medications and supplements a day.

She did not immediately pick up many allies in her sport. In fact, Roger Federer, saying he was a zero tolerance guy, said, “It doesn’t matter if they did it on purpose or not, I don’t really see the difference. You need to know what goes into your body, you have to be 100 per cent sure of what’s going on. If you’re not, you’re going to be damned.”

So, let’s review at some other numbers from the PED stats sheet: Ryan Braun got 65 games. Alex Rodriguez got 162 games. Maria Sharapova gets two years.

There isn’t much to sympathize in a woman who, according to Forbes, has made $300 million in her career. But in this single instance, it was her misfortune not to have been born a man whose talents involved hitting the fastball rather than hitting the two-fisted backhand.