Sports Ethics Moment: Maria Sharapova’s Forgotten Ethics

SharapovaBefore starting to write this post, I needed to research a bit about Magnesium deficiencies. I am obviously not a doctor of medicine or a licensed nutritionist, so I wanted to research the likelihood of a world class athlete with a team of nutritionists, trainers, chefs and physicians of having a Magnesium problem. From what I have read, it was not very likely at all. Am I pre-occupied with Magnesium? No, but apparently Maria Sharapova is damn well fixated on the stuff.


The drug Meldonium, a drug illegally used in doping, made it onto the World Anti-Doping Agency banned substance list on January 2016. Its legitimate, medical use is to increase blood flow to organs, and in neurodegenerative disorders. Indirectly, the medication can increase oxygen uptake and boost endurance.

At the molecular level, Meldonium may have something to do with Magnesium, but that is not why Maria Sharapova was given the drug for the last ten years. It was to boost her performance. The All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF), has been defending its use but even in their posturing they knew it was on the banned substance list. When Sharapova had a blood test prior to the Australian Open, the drug showed up in the results.

She could be banned for up to four years.

Despite her apologies to her legions of fans (Boo-hoo), it is difficult to believe that the tennis star had no idea why she was taking the drug and barring that, why the ARAF failed to notify her that the substance was banned.

However, here is what we do know: Sharapova’s “brand” and sponsorships amount to about $30 million per year – and now, sponsors like Nike, TAG Heuer watches and Porsche are jumping off of the ship.

The opportunity

Unethical behaviors often involve the opportunity to capitalize on a situation. Maria Sharapova took the medication to improve her performance on the court. She did so for as long as she could, and she pushed an envelope that should have never been pushed. There are numerous legal medications and supplements to increase Magnesium in the body. The only individuals who have convinced themselves to believe the Magnesium/Meldonium story are the All-Russia Athletic Federation people and Sharapova herself.

Those of us who love sports tire of how certain sports are always under the microscope and how other sports seem to avoid scrutiny. Professional football and baseball, for example are always under scrutiny for PEDs, while sports such as tennis, swimming and diving or volleyball don’t seem to come under the radar all that much. As it turns out, cases of drug abuse are seen in every sport and with both genders. Athletes often believe that a drug will give them the edge and unscrupulous enablers will work with them to provide it.

It all comes down to ethics, choices and consequences. Sharapova and her team made a choice going back a decade. The consequences are emerging only now, but they are emerging.

Before the staged defenses of Sharapova are trotted out to elicit sympathy, let’s try and remember a few facts beginning with these:

There are a fairly large number of world class athletes, most all of whom are from Russia, who have been caught taking this drug. Surely not every one of them has a Magnesium deficiency!

Second, the drug is not FDA approved.

Third, even in Latvia where the drug originates, the normal course of treatment is 4 to 6 weeks, not 10 years!

Fourth, “Meldo,” as some call it, has not been studied long-term for all its adverse effects which can include blood pressure changes, irregular heartbeat and skin conditions.

Five, in controlled studies the real physiological difference that has been measured with Meldonium is apparently minimal. Imagine taking a drug for more than ten years where the actual effect is less than one-half of one percent!

Finally, it is cheating.

There are no free rides, and every choice we make has a consequence. For now, Sharapova’s choices could cost her a career and substantial dollars. Who knows what other surprises are in store?





1 Comment
  1. We looking at career getting ruin here but let us also look at the long term side effect, the most likely problems that are noted to occur with those who regularly use anabolism steroids for a lengthy period of time are virtually always centered around the heart. High blood pressure and very high levels of cholesterol are usually the most common scenario for individuals who use steroids

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