Maria Sharapova (Alternate Timeline)

Imagine, if you will, that Maria Sharapova had given a slightly different press conference. Imagine that she had come out to that podium in Los Angeles and said, not that she had failed a drug test, but that a drug that she had been taking for a long time, meldonium, had recently been banned by WADA. Upon seeing it on the list, she had stopped taking it. She just wanted to clear that up for everyone, so there'd be no question about her integrity.

(After she stepped away from the cameras, she pulled out her cellphone and called me. "That went well, I think," she said.

"Maria," I said. "This is getting creepy. We've never met. Please stop calling me.")

Now imagine that the rest of the story was pretty much the same: she gave the same rationale for using the drug, described the same duration of usage. The same Latvian drug company came out afterward to say that the way Maria described using the drug was unusual, that it was meant for more short- and medium-term use.

Imagine, too, that the same slew of Russian athletes who are right now failing drug tests right and left continued to fail these drug tests.

In this parallel universe, you would, as here, be hard pressed to conclude that Maria was taking the drug for any reason beside its performance-enhancing benefits. You understand why all these athletes have been using it. You aren't an idiot; it's not like they all have heart trouble.

In this parallel universe, Maria broke no rule. Indeed, the tennis governing bodies confirm that she didn't at any point fail a drug test. She said she stopped taking it and she did. Now I ask you: Is Maria a doper or not?

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