KRWG

Deadspin: Serena Williams Is One Of The Most Drug Tested Tennis Players

Jul 3, 2018
Originally published on July 3, 2018 5:55 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Wimbledon is in full swing. Seven-time champ Serena Williams is looking to make it eight. Many agree she's probably the best women's player on the tour, arguably the best women's player ever. Well, according to Deadspin, she's also one of the most drug tested. Laura Wagner writes that Serena Williams has been tested for performance-enhancing drugs five times this year by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. That is more than twice as often as other top American women players. The question is, why? And for that, we turn to Laura Wagner who joins us via Skype. Hey, there.

LAURA WAGNER: Hi, how are you?

KELLY: I'm well. Thanks. So before we get into the why, let me start with the how. Describe how the testing process typically works.

WAGNER: Sure. So with USADA testing, some athletes are required to give whereabouts information. So for one hour every day of the year, they're required to say a time and a place where they will be available for testing. And the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency - if they come during that availability window, the athlete must be present to get a test. Otherwise, it counts as a missed test. But USADA is also able to come outside that availability window and test whenever they want for whatever reason they want.

KELLY: OK, so describe then what is going on with Serena Williams and any insight we have into why she seems to be getting tested more often than anybody else playing.

WAGNER: Well, that's the question that I put to USADA. They said that they only test within - in accordance with international standards. They would never conduct testing in an unfair way. But when I asked them, is the testing for Serena Williams because they suspect her of doping, a spokesman said absolutely not. So there isn't a lot of clarity on why she's being tested more than the other players.

KELLY: What does Serena Williams say?

WAGNER: She was asked about this at Wimbledon. And she said that she knows that she is getting tested all the time. She wants to cooperate with the testing. She says that she wants everybody to be tested fairly - be tested at the same frequency. Her team - in a statement to me - said that the testing was invasive and targeted. She did not use those words in her Wimbledon press conference.

KELLY: For comparison's sake, Roger Federer - the number one seed on the men's side - he said in a press conference before Wimbledon that he's been tested seven times already this year. And I'll note that, like Serena Williams, he's in his 30s. Is one possibility that nobody quite believes people could be playing this well at this age without getting a little bit of help from somewhere?

WAGNER: Yeah, I think that's certainly a theory that's been floated. Those - of course USADA wouldn't (laughter) say anything specifically about that.

KELLY: Based on your reporting, Laura, what do you think is going on here?

WAGNER: I think it's hard to say. But if I could just zoom out a little bit, I would say that this discrepancy in testing and even the idea that USADA has this wide latitude to test - it epitomizes the problem with anti-doping sports more generally. So, you know, it's based on this premise that there is some substances the athletes are allowed to put in their bodies and some substances that are not. And that line is always changing and sort of arbitrary and also maybe unfair based on the number of times Serena has been tested with other athletes. So, you know, if there's a reason that USADA is testing Serena Williams more frequently - if there is some sort of suspicion of wrongdoing out there - they are not saying that. We don't know the answer. So what we're left with is this idea that there is something fundamentally flawed with the anti-doping efforts in tennis and probably all the sports.

KELLY: Laura Wagner, a reporter for Deadspin, thanks very much.

WAGNER: Yeah, thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL MICHELS AFFAIR'S "A LITTLE SLOPPY (FULL VERSION)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.