Professional tennis player Maria Sharapova served up an ace of a lesson last week in humility, personal responsibility, and smart public relations – one any South Florida business executive may learn from. When confronted with a failed test for the newly banned drug Meldonium, she might have enlisted crisis management professionals, which is a smart move. But she didn’t call the testing process flawed, or cast blame elsewhere.
Though analysts say she faces a lengthy suspension, Sharapova admitted taking the drug, which the sport banned effective January 1 as a performance enhancer. And she begged forgiveness from the sport and her fans. She claimed the drug was prescribed by her family doctor for a decade to fight a magnesium deficiency.
Sharapova wouldn’t have been alone had she publicly fought back. Think about the fortune spent and reputations ruined by cyclist Lance Armstrong, who for years fought claims he had taken performance enhancing drugs – claims he ultimately admitted to. New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez denied repeatedly he ever used steroids, only to confess under oath having done so.
What can executives, celebrities, athletes, or anyone caught in a transgression learn from Sharapova’s quick admission?
1. Get out in front of the story. By admitting her failure before her tennis federation did, Sharapova controlled – at least initially – how the story has unfolded.
2. If innocent, fight the charges. Sharapova will have a hearing later this spring, and likely will try to explain why she took the drug and whether she had disclosed it previously to officials, according to news reports.
3. If guilty, take a long-term view of the situation and how your reputation could be further harmed – or benefit from – taking responsibility.
4. Ask forgiveness. Humility and contrition can go a long way in regaining trust.
At a press conference, Sharapova said, “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 and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game.”
Even if her admission doesn’t win the hearts, minds, and leniency of professional tennis, it should be an example for how to control a damaging story.

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