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Comment: So Maria’s a drug cheat, but what kind of drug cheat will she be?

The Roar logo The Roar 10-03-2016 Joe Frost
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Maria Sharapova has made her first public statement since announcing she had tested positive to performance-enhancing drugs at the Australian Open, taking to Facebook to thank her fans and reiterate her desire to play again.

Conspicuously absent from her 300-odd words was any reference to her positive test, the potential four-year band she is facing, or that she and her lawyers are no doubt furiously preparing her defence.

And to be fair, Sharapova acknowledged as much, signing off by writing, “This message isn’t anything else but to say thank you. Thank you very much.”

Part of me wants to believe her. She is at the lowest point of her career, and it’s entirely reasonable that she wants to reach out and thank the many people who have stood behind her.

Surely Sharapova’s ultimate goal is for WADA and the ITF to find she has no case to answer. © REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton Surely Sharapova’s ultimate goal is for WADA and the ITF to find she has no case to answer. But another part of me is far more cynical. This is a Facebook page followed by more than 15 million people, meaning it is a huge part of Brand Sharapova, and therefore carefully managed.

While she may have used the word “random” and talked about her dog, don’t mistake this post for the gushing, cutesy ramblings of a Gen Y celebrity. This was a sculpted post from a team in damage control.

But what’s the end game?

I woke up yesterday morning with an inbox, in full capacity of love and compassion. The first email I immediately…

Posted by Maria Sharapova on Wednesday, 9 March 2016

At this stage, it’s hard to say.

Surely Sharapova’s ultimate goal is for WADA and the ITF to find she has no case to answer. She made a mistake, was using a newly banned substance for less than a month, and presumably has paperwork to back-up her claims that her family doctor prescribed her the meds in the first place.

But even she must realise that’s not possible.

If we give her every benefit of the doubt, she still willingly used a performance-enhancing drug, and if WADA accept ignorance as a defence they may never successfully prosecute another athlete for doping again.

She has to do some time.

And once you’ve done time, you’re forever a drug cheat – as Aussie cycling legend Phil Anderson, who has experience with these kinds of things, once told me, “You can’t be a little bit pregnant.”

But there are different kinds of drug cheats.

There are drug cheats like Lance Armstrong, who bully, intimidate, lie, commit perjury – do whatever it takes to stay from getting busted. The problem with this approach is that when the truth comes out, virtually all goodwill disappears in an instant.

How many advertising campaigns do you see Lance fronting these days?

Then there are drug cheats like Shane Warne, who come up with a goofily believable excuse, take their medicine with as much humility as they can muster, sit out for the assigned period of time, then come back with their image relatively intact.

Reckon Warnie has struggled to find work or sponsorships in retirement? In fact, I’ll bet some people are googling ‘Shane Warne drugs ban’ right now, to check whether it even happened.

Sharapova and her team have clearly decided she is going to be the kind of drug cheat whose indiscretion becomes a footnote to her career, rather than define it. And that’s fair enough, because even if she was using meldonium as a performance enhancer for the past decade, there was no rule against doing so until January 1 this year. So she cheated for 25 days in a professional career that began in 2001.

But the amount of doping isn’t as important as the way you behave when you get caught. And one classy press conference doesn’t mean she will come out of this ordeal smelling of roses.

I suspect that’s what this Facebook message was about: staying classy.

Don’t talk about the drugs. Don’t mention the fact your lawyers are busting their arses trying to find a way to get you back on court ASAP. Definitely don’t play the blame game.

While the post was contrived – “That’s when I realized a bunch of tinted windowed cars were following me”, because a celebrity of Maria’s standing facing a scandal of this size wouldn’t have possibly anticipated being hounded by the tabloid press – it was still clever.

The sponsors may be walking away now, but if you keep your fans onside, they’ll be back.

Maria Sharapova may not be able to stop from being officially declared a drug cheat, but she can ensure it doesn’t define her.

Sharapova’s Facebook post

I woke up yesterday morning with an inbox, in full capacity of love and compassion.

The first email I immediately opened was from my best friend, you know, the type of person who can make you smile and cry with only one word and who I spent the evening on the phone with, checking up on me, how was I doing?

On average, I love the mornings. New day, new start. It is fair to say that this day was not average. Nothing came to mind at 6am, except that I am determined to play tennis again and I hope I will have the chance to do so. I wish I didn’t have to go through this, but I do – and I will.

I needed to sweat, to push through and grind as I have done most of my life, so I made my way to the gym. That’s when I realized a bunch of tinted windowed cars were following me. The good old paparazzi, back on the trail.

I have not been online much except the odd search for a new antique coffee table (random, I know), but my friends made a collage for me with all your beautiful messages and hashtags that you created (‪#‎IStandWithMaria‬ and ‪#‎LetMariaPlay‬). I spent the afternoon reading them next to my dog, who couldn’t quite understand why this was more important than the walk he was expecting to take.

In this moment, I am so proud to call you my fans. Within hours of my announcement, you showed me support and loyalty, which I could only expect to hear when someone would be at the top of their profession.

I wanted to let you know that your wonderful words put a smile on my face. I’d like to play again and hope to have the chance to do so. Your messages give me great encouragement. This message isn’t anything else but to say thank you. Thank you very much.

– Maria Sharapova

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