For brands that prise themselves on making ethical decisions to embrace sportsmanship, the irony of coldy dropping Maria Sharapova is shocking.
Let's consider the situation. Sharapova had been taking meldonium for 10 years, during which it was legal, until suddenly, it became illegal. It can of course be argued that she was warned that the drug was becoming illegal, but let's also consider the circumstances under which she was warned.
On December 18 2015, the tennis player received an email with the subject line "Player News" on it. The email contained a newsletter that covered an overwhelming amount of information about tournaments, travel, rankings, statistics, birthday wishes and anti-doping information. As human beings, all of us can relate to not reading through emails, especially if the contents do not concern us. Sharapova was also handed a wallet card, which can be seen below. The card contained thousands of words on it, which looks unquestionably daunting to read.
Sharapova's critics will highlight the fact that she should at least have read the anti-doping part of the email, considering the fact that she was taking a drug. However, she had been taking it for ten years, during which it was completely legal. It would seem almost neurotically paranoid to read every word of the thousand-word document in the fear that this drug would suddenly become illegal, after ten years. As a result, she must have thought that the anti-doping section would not concern her and hence did not read it.
Of course, ignorance is no excuse, but human nature surely is. Sportsmanship itself embraces fairness and consideration, with graciousness being at the forefront of the losing side. Brands that highly value their brand ethics will undoubtedly have a strong stand against those who dope because doping involves cheating, lying and deceiving the public. The strong stance against doping makes sense for the Lance Armstrongs of the sporting world who are full aware that the substances running through their bodies are illegal.
However, did Sharapova cheat, lie and deceive? No. She took meldonium with the knowledge that she was acting within the law and as soon as she failed the drug test, she instantly came out and veraciously told her account of events. Her actions can in no way be considered deceiving.
If ethics are so important to brands and sportsmanship is valued immeasurably for sporting brands, it is surely ironic that their support for Sharapova was coldly abandoned, considering her circumstances.
There is no doubt that Sharapova should be penalised for failing a drugs test. At the end of the day, there are regulations that weren't met by the tennis star and the tennis bodies should take the appropriate disciplinary measures. However, her sponsors, who themselves uphold their own standards and ethics are responsible for their own reactions to the situation and their regulations are up to their own discretion.
Their unforgiving and unsympathetic reactions based on brand ethics ironically expose their lack of ethics and for the sporting brands, their lack of sportsmanship. Put simply, for those who dropped the tennis star, brand ethics are simply a marketing tool and hold no substance in the real world. The brands simply dropped her because she is now less marketable considering the negative controversy surrounding her name and her anticipated ban - it has nothing to do with brand ethics.
In a world that is genuinely tying to ethically embrace compassion, progress is stunted by the despicable acts of brands that use this as a marketing tool. Sharapova was unfortunate to be caught up in this mess but at least other sports personas will hopefully now be more vigilant with regards to their medical programs.