Keidel: More Doping, More Excuses

By Jason Keidel

Meldonium.

It sounds like the local factory. Or a town in upstate New York. Or the latest planet Captain Kirk and the Enterprise must wrench free from the Klingon Empire.

It doesn’t sound like the pharmaceutical death knell for Maria Sharapova. But those four syllables spell a two-year suspension for the all-world tennis star.

Sharapova was the darling of the sports world not too long ago. Tall, athletic, pretty, cut from central casting with blonde hair and blue eyes, she was 17 years old when she won Wimbledon in 2004.

Right away she was surfing the wave of stardom, paraded around America like a conquering general, doing the talk-show circuit. When you meet Matt Lauer — back when the Today Show was still king — you know you’ve reached a rare orbit.

She was also something we can’t call her now: innocent.

Sharapova’s suspension shocked the tennis, sports and pop culture worlds. We had a sense the hammer would drop, but not the Hammer of Thor. For all intents and purposes, this could end her career.

Even though Sharapova hasn’t circled the top rung of tennis in some time — largely because of her inability to overcome Serena Williams — she was still a high-end player who could have left a robust legacy. Not only has she cast a shadow over her entire career, she will lose around $18 million in tennis earnings and endorsements, according to yahoo.com. Does she care? Was it worth it?

Sharapova said she was prescribed the Latvian-made drug, designed for a heart condition. It’s become a recycled mantra, the post script of innocence or ignorance.

When you dwell in these constellations of consonants, it gets ugly. Meldonium. Just Google a list of anabolic steroids. Clenbuterol. Andoredan. Clomipheni Citrate. Duratamoxifin. Gonadotraphon. Jenoxifen. And there’s that old, household name… Methandrostenolonum.

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We’ve been here too many times. You’ll recall A-Rod’s famous foot-in-mouth malady when he talked about “boli” and abstract cousins named “Yuri.” Rafael Palmiero pointed doggedly at congress. Sammy Sosa forgot English in the same room.

So no matter how hard these drugs are to spell or sell, it’s time we lift the curtain on the culture.

If Barry Bonds weren’t enough. If A-Rod weren’t enough. If Sosa, McGwire and the grand poobah of PEDs, Lance Armstrong, weren’t enough to nudge the needle toward fair play, maybe someone as heretofore feminine and innocuous as Maria Sharapova can slap us to attention.

Sure, Sharapova, a former golden girl whose star has faded over the last few years, seems harmless enough. Unable to reach the heights she seemed assured 10 years ago, and unable to conquer Serena Williams — her eternal kryptonite — Sharapova should have just coasted quietly into the sunset.

But the temptation to squeeze a few years out of those fading legs was too much — for her, and for countless athletes who suddenly found that fountain of youth around 30 years old. Like Bonds, who magically morphed into Babe Ruth at age 35, Sharapova perhaps saw herself as some ageless mutant who would never get caught.

It’s always the same preamble. Just one more year, one more title, one more win. Retire on my terms, not on Mother Nature or Father Time’s timetable. Why must Mother Nature win every time when I can just gulp this pill, rub this cream, jam this needle…

It’s so easy, so simple, so cheap. A fountain of youth for a few bucks, a shady doctor and a dark room.

No matter Sharapova’s excuses over the next few days, it’s likely all lies. We know the drill. They will be sorry they disappointed their fans, their family and their sport. They had no idea, at the time, that what they were taking was illegal. It’s so confusing, you see, to read those sprawling labels at the pharmacy. They just line it up, and I take it!

Please. These coddled, killer athletes, with microscopic body fat, who can recite the carbs in an orange, the potassium in a banana, the calories in their merlot, are suddenly blind to the panacea they pound into their veins. Please.

You’re not sorry you did it. You’re sorry you got caught.

Like the man said, the coverup is worse than the crime. Just own it, Maria. Save yourself the shock and the shame of more lies and the spotlight that will follow you until you come clean, literally.

The International Tennis Federation, the body that handed down the punishment, and the alleged moral compass that will fix this plague, decided she should get half of the possible four-year ban. Some cited her high level of cooperation and bought some level of medical ignorance.

This nugget direct from the ITF’s ruling. “The ITF accepts that she did not know that Mildronate contained a Prohibited Substance…” then said she still should have known better. Blah, blah, blah.

So if you were hoping Maria Sharapova or the sport of tennis would double as agents of change, you just got your answer.

Same as it ever was.

Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.

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