By Mischa Jackson

Top-tier athletes using performance enhancing drugs (PED) — it’s a tale we’ve heard time and time again, but one that always comes with a host of lessons. In this case, it’s a master class in crisis management.

Tennis superstar Maria Sharapova recently made headlines when she confessed to her use of meldonium, a drug that increases blood flow, improving exercise capacity.

In a brief press conference, the 28-year-old revealed that the International Tennis Federation found the drug in her system at the Australian open in January.

It seemed like Sharapova, who holds five grand slam titles and a bevy of endorsements, was joining the ranks of disgraced athletes like Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones; a career spanning 15 years down the drain because of her desire to be top dog.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.

Meldonium was only recently banned in the tennis world, and Sharapova has allegedly been taking the drug since 2006 for health issues. Her circumstances appear to be different than those who usually fall victim to the PED trap, which she made clear before the media could chew her up and spit her out. Without a publicist or management by her side, she stood at the podium alone to deliver the facts and take control of the situation. Athletes in similar positions are usually advised to deny the situation or take part in a tell-all interview on a major network.

Her honesty is appreciated, but it does not come without repercussion. Tag Heuer, Nike and Porsche have all suspended their sponsorships of the tennis darling. The sports equipment company HEAD, however, has vowed to stand by Sharapova after what they called an “honest mistake.”  

By admitting her wrongdoing before it became tabloid fodder, Sharapova has positioned herself for a strong comeback. The move is already being coined the “Sharapova response,” as it will no doubt be used as a point of reference for doping scandals in the future.


(Photo credit: Flickr/Michael Brown)