by rabbi Ari Kayser
MUCH HAS been said about the recent fall from grace of one of tennis’ most decorated female champions – Maria Sharapova. The five-time Grand Slam winner and the world’s highest-paid female athlete, failed a drugs test at the Australian Open. She tested positive for meldonium, a little-known drug principally used for heart failure.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) recently found “evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance” by virtue of carrying more oxygen to muscle tissue and improving exercise capacity, and added the drug to its prohibited list in January.
Part of the controversy has been Sharapova openly admitted using the drug for 10 years for medical reasons, and claimed ignorance to its performance-enhancing properties. Within hours of Shaparova’s admission, sportswear giant Nike announced it was suspending its relationship with her. Nike was quickly followed by car manufacturer Porsche, and Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer. Without passing judgement on Sharapova’s actions or motivations, we can ask what went wrong for her, and how could it have been avoided.
The Talmud tells us the family of Kohanim in charge of making the ketoret (incense offering) did not allow its family members to use perfume, lest they be suspected of stealing its sacred ingredients. Similarly, bakers of the Lechem HaPanim (showbread in the Temple) did not eat fine bread, in order that they not be accused of taking this special flour for personal use. The lesson is that those in positions of influence and responsibility, must take extra caution in their conduct. The Kohanim and the bakers went above and beyond what was necessary so that there would be no suspicion over their actions. In the case of sports, it is very easy to blur the lines of healthy and performance-enhancing.
Perhaps a paradigm shift could come in the way we measure success. Top athletes may only consider themselves good if they are the best. Even among us simple folk, we often measure our success, and self-worth, against those around us. Judaism does not require us to be the best in the world in our field. What it does demand is that you are the greatest “you” that you could possibly be.
The accolade “personal best” holds more weight than “world record”, and the only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday.