The Lance Armstrong Way seems like the perfect example of “How Not to Handle Doping in Your Sport 101.”
The cycling legend denied doping for years. It led to embittered relationships and legal disputes.
Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 1 ATP tennis player — who is not being accused of anything — apparently didn’t sign up for the class. In defending the integrity of his sport, Djokovic nearly ended up channeling the wrong guy.
After being named the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year in Berlin on Monday, he conducted an interview with CNN, in which he blamed the media for the stories of doping in tennis.
— CNN Sport (@cnnsport) April 19, 2016
“The media is trying to create the stories and so forth,” Djokovic told CNN, a month after former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova admitted to taking Meldonium, a banned substance on the tour, after she failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January. “As long as there is no proof that somebody is doping, the sport is clean. We will keep it that way. I am actually proud of the integrity of our sport.”
In making these comments, Djokovic sounded a bit like Armstrong, who pointed his finger at the media in a similar fashion a decade ago — including singling out London Sunday Times sportswriter David Walsh, one of the first to accuse Armstrong of doping.
“Walsh is the worst journalist I know,” Armstrong said. “There are journalists who are willing to lie, to threaten people and to steal in order to catch me out. All this for a sensational story. Ethics, standards, values, accuracy — these are of no interest to people like Walsh.”
So what are the “stories” of Tennis Doping Past that Djokovic may believe are media creations? Well, here are a few.
2004: When John McEnroe, one of the greatest American men’s tennis players, admitted to doping:
“For six years, I was unaware I was being given a form of steroid of the legal kind they used to give horses until they decided it was too strong even for horses,” McEnroe told a British newspaper.
2007: When Martina Hingis tested positive for benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine, during Wimbledon. The positive test led to a two-year suspension from the sport. (The year prior she received the Laureus Comeback of the Year award.)
“I have tested positive but I have never taken drugs and I feel 100 percent innocent,” Hingis said, according to The Daily Telegraph. “The reason I have come out with this is because I do not want to have a fight with anti-doping authorities. Because of my age and my health problems I have also decided to retire from professional tennis.”
2009: When Andre Agassi, arguably the GOAT of men’s tennis, admitted in his book “Open” to snorting crystal meth:
“I snort some. I ease back on the couch and consider the Rubicon I’ve just crossed … There is a moment of regret, followed by vast sadness. Then comes a tidal wave of euphoria that sweeps away every negative thought in my head. I’ve never felt so alive, so hopeful — and I’ve never felt such energy.”
March 2016: When Maria Sharapova, ranked ninth on the WTA Tour, admitted to doping:
“I take full responsibility for it,” she said in a press conference in Los Angeles. “I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down. I let my sport down. I don’t want to end my career this way.”
There are several other tennis players, though none as high-profile as Sharapova, who have either been suspended by the International Tennis Federation or admitted so publicly.
The tennis media isn’t accusing Novak Djokovic of doping, of course; they are merely saying that it exists in the sport. But when the French sports newspaper L’Equipe reported in 2005 that Armstrong doped to win his 1999 Tour de France, his response was similar to Djokovic’s defense of tennis.
“Unfortunately, the witch hunt continues,” Armstrong wrote on his website, according to the New York Times. “That article was nothing short of tabloid journalism.”
Until, of course, those accusations about Armstrong proved true.
Perhaps Djokovic should consider choosing a different tactic when sticking up for his sport. He certainly shouldn’t want his words getting confused with those of the most well-known athlete involved in a doping scandal.