Were John McEnroe’s comments on Maria Sharapova’s failed drug test as supportive of her as much of the media appears to believe? A close reading of what he actually said suggests that, far from being helpful, he was – intentionally or otherwise – undermining her case.
The article in today’s Times of London was characteristic of those who decided he was backing Sharapova. The headline stated: ‘McEnroe defends Sharapova and says he would have taken drug’
In the first paragraph of the story, tennis correspondent Barry Flatman writes: ‘John McEnroe is not renowned for his compassion towards other competitors but the outspoken former player has defended Maria Sharapova after she admitted to taking a banned drug and said he would have used it.’
But, a careful look at what McEnroe says provides evidence that his ‘defence’ of her actions has done much more damage to her case than the comments of most of her critics.
Her case depends on a rigid adherence to a simple narrative; that she took meldonium occasionally under medical supervision to address heart problems and because of a family history of diabetes; and that she made a “huge mistake” in failing to realise that the drug had gone on to the banned list.
McEnroe’s words cast doubt on both elements of this narrative.
By saying it was acceptable to use a prescription drug as a performance enhancer even if it was developed for other medical uses, he is, at the very least, raising the possibility that she could have used the drug for this purpose.
Look at his words as he insisted he would have used the drug if it had been available in his playing days. “If a drug is legal? That is like a no-brainer. I mean, are you kidding?…. People have been looking since the beginning of time for an edge, and you’re constantly looking for these things in any shape or form.”
He is stating that it is acceptable to do things that her lawyers and public relations people are insisting she has not done.
Nor is McEnroe helpful when he comments on her argument that she was unaware of the change in rules. “It would be hard to believe that no-one in her camp, the 25 or 30 people that work for her, or Maria herself had no idea that this happened,” he said.
So far from supporting her narrative he has, intentionally or not, done an extremely good job in undermining it. And he has added credibility to those who don’t accept her version – as opposed to the legality – of her version of events.
Of course, it may be that, as her supporters hope, there is incontrovertible evidence that she only took these drugs for medical purposes.
But, even if that is the case, she still has to answer why she embarked on a public relations and legal strategy that only makes sense if she has something to hide.