The slick handling of Maria Sharapova’s failed drug test was a textbook approach to managing a bombshell revelation, but it’s the first time we’ve seen it employed as part of a major drugs scandal.
It was a shrewd decision, probably by her management, to handle the media relations by breaking the story herself and fielding media questions. Sharapova has taken control of the story and defined the narrative on her own terms. The remorseful tone, sombre black shirt, the hand on heart when talking about ‘letting fans down’ and accepting full responsibility for taking the medicine provided a crash course in damage limitation.
Sharapova’s approach is a turnaround from previous drugs scandals, which have been characterised by a ‘deny, deny, deny’ approach before the athletes have been forced to come clean – think Lance Armstrong, Dwain Chambers and Marion Jones. It will be hotly debated whether she genuinely took the drug for the health reasons stated, and whether it earns her a reduced suspension remains to be played out. But even the stage-managed announcement hasn’t stopped Tag Heuer and Nike from suspending their endorsements with the tennis star.