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Maria Sharapova Receives 2-Year Ban From Tennis For Doping


Maria Sharapova, one of the world's top tennis players, will not compete at Wimbledon later this month or in any tournament anytime soon.

Today, the International Tennis Federation banned her from the sport for two years. She tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug a few months back. Maria Sharapova says she is appealing the decision. Joining us to talk about it is Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated. Welcome back.

JON WERTHEIM: Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Sharapova tested positive for a drug that she says she took for medical reasons. Why is this drug banned? Tell us more about it.

WERTHEIM: This drug meldonium was tested on soldiers. It stems from Russian and former Soviet states, and they've found in testing that this has performance-enhancing qualities, especially to the respiratory system.

So this drug went on the banned list on January 1. So you could have taken this drug on December 31, and it would've been legal. But right now it is on the banned list.

SHAPIRO: On her Facebook page, Sharapova says the two-year suspension means her use was unintentional and that if it had been intentional abuse of the drug the suspension would've been longer. So is the organization basically saying we know you're not lying, but you still broke the rules?

WERTHEIM: Well, there - in - I think tennis deserves credit here. There's a 33-page decision that is posted online. Anyone has access to it. And with a tremendous level of specificity, they go through their case and what they consider credible, what they didn't. And what seems to be the case is that they didn't really weigh in on the performance enhancing.

The lack of intent was she didn't realize this was banned. And I think that's a critical distinction - one that she not surprisingly did not make. But I think that's a critical distinction. She got two years. She could've gotten four if there had been clear intent. She got two which suggests a lack of intent but that does not pertain to the performance enhancement. That's just an intent of whether she knew the rules or not. I know that's a little in the weeds, but I think that's a critical distinction to make.

SHAPIRO: And when is she going to hear about her appeal? There's still the Olympics, the U.S. Open.

WERTHEIM: As soon as she possibly can. Athletes have a right to appeal these decisions - so do the governing agencies, though, this time it was obviously Sharapova. She may get this two-year ban knocked down a little bit, but I think now it's just a question of the length of the suspension.

I do not think the overall finding is going to be overturned. I don't think we see her again until 2017.

SHAPIRO: Her last big win was a couple of years ago at the French Open, but she's still a top earner because of endorsements from Nike, Porsche. Any word from her big sponsors today?

WERTHEIM: It's funny. When she first had this press conference announcing this positive test, the sponsors went in very different directions. Nike didn't wait until dinnertime until they sent out a press release saying they were suspending the relationship. Other endorsers - Head rackets, for example, double-down and we are wholeheartedly supporting her. I think that's a real dimension to this whole story.

This isn't just an athlete, this is a brand. And this is a brand based on sort of grace and dignity. And when you read this report, it really undercuts that image. So this is a sports story, but it's a business story as well.

I mean, Maria Sharapova is her own empire. She herself personally makes more in revenue than the entire WTA tour. And the fact that her image has really been undercut so severely I think makes this much more than just a conventional athlete gets busted story.

SHAPIRO: And what's the message here for other athletes beyond don't do drugs or if you do don't get busted?

WERTHEIM: It's read the rules. And it doesn't matter if you are Maria Sharapova, one of the brightest stars in your sports cosmos, it's on you, as the athletes would say. It's your responsibility. And in the case of Sharapova, it was really her business that got her in this mess.

SHAPIRO: Jon Wertheim, executive editor and senior writer at Sports Illustrated, thanks for joining us.

WERTHEIM: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.