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updated: 1/7/2011 9:53 PM

Taurasi's breach damages WNBA

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  • In the world of professional sports, women's basketball is the closest thing to squeaky clean so it's a shocker to see Diana Taurasi in the midst of doping allegations.

      In the world of professional sports, women's basketball is the closest thing to squeaky clean so it's a shocker to see Diana Taurasi in the midst of doping allegations.
    Associated Press

 
 

What a dope Diana Taurasi appears to be.

On Thursday, Taurasi, arguably the best female basketball player in the world, had her contract with the Turkish team she plays for during the WNBA's off-season voided. For doping.

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She has reportedly denied the charges in conversations with her former college coach, Geno Auriemma of Connecticut. It will be interesting to see what her next move is.

For now, this certainly is a surreal development, to say the least.

In the world of professional sports, women's basketball is the closest thing to squeaky clean.

For more than a decade, the WNBA has being trying to emulate its professional sports brethren by developing a quality and high-level sports entertainment option.

Just without the drugs.

It's no secret that just about every men's professional sports league has had bouts with drug problems over the course of their histories. From Major League Baseball to the NFL to the NBA, we've seen athletes ruin their careers with steroids, hard-core street drugs and even the misuse of prescription medications.

Fifteen years into its existence, the WNBA hasn't really had to face those demons.

"I'd say that only 2 to 5 percent of the players in the WNBA even risk violating the substance policy," said Chicago Sky strength and conditioning coach Ann Crosby. "When I say that, people are always like, 'Really?' But it's true. The WNBA really doesn't have the problems that a lot of sports leagues have with drugs."

Yes, but when it rains on the WNBA, it apparently pours.

This isn't a benchwarmer in trouble. This is the face of the league.

Not good news for the WNBA.

Taurasi, who has been an A-list superstar ever since she was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury in 2004, has tested positive for the banned stimulant modafinil.

On Thursday, her second sample, or "B" sample, confirmed what her original sample read in November. Taurasi's team in Turkey made its decision to terminate her contract after the "B" sample also came back positive.

Modafinil is used to counter excessive sleepiness due to narcolepsy, sleep apnea and other sleep disorders.

It is on the World Anti-Doping Agency's list and is the substance that got American sprinter Kelli White into trouble in 2004. She won gold medals in the 100 and 200 meters at the 2003 World Championships. But those results were stricken from the records in the wake of news that White tested positive for modafinil as well as the steroid THG.

White received a two-year ban from competition.

Taurasi also faces tough repercussions. She could be banned for up to two years from the Turkish league. And that would comprise her standing with the U.S. women's national basketball team for the 2012 Olympics in London.

Already a two-time gold medalist, Taurasi would not be allowed to participate in any Olympic event if she is saddled with a ban of two years or more by any other athletic agency.

On top of all that, Taurasi would likely be faced with a punishment from the WNBA for the 2011 season.

"She could be hit with a triple whammy, and that's such a bummer for the league because she is such a draw. People come out to see her play," said Crosby, who confirmed that the Sky has never had a substance violation in its six years of existence.

Crosby helps to ensure every Sky player is in compliance.

"I'm not sure how the WNBA will deal with it, but I would think she would get some kind of suspension, whether it be for two or three games or more," Crosby said. "Things like this are really dealt with on a case-by-case basis."

Of course, there really haven't been very many cases like this in the WNBA.

Crosby can't recall a situation like this in which a player tested positive for a banned substance. The two biggest incidents even remotely close involved alcohol. And they made news only because law enforcement was involved.

Ironically, one of those cases involved Taurasi. In the summer of 2009, she was cited for speeding and charged with driving under the influence in Arizona. She had a blood-alcohol level of 0.17, more than twice the Arizona legal limit of .08.


When the WNBA randomly tests its players for drugs, usually about three times a season, it tests for alcohol levels that are above the legal limit. Players with positive results are suspended just as they would be if they tested positive for a banned substance.

"The WNBA is really tough on this kind of stuff," Crosby said. "There is a zero tolerance policy and there are a ton of things on the banned substance list. In fact, they just added seven more things for the upcoming season."

The Sky takes the drug policy a step further.

"Our philosophy is pretty much that nothing is approved," Crosby said. "You can go to a supplement store and there are a ton of things that aren't FDA regulated, so the ingredients aren't on the label and you don't know what's in there. A few years ago, one of our players wanted to try a popular weight loss pill to lose some weight and I was like, 'No way.'

"We say, 'If you want to lose weight, run more. If you want to speed up your metabolism, eat better.' You just don't know what's in all of these drugs and stimulants out there. You have no idea what the long-term effects are."

In the short term, you simply become a big dope.

• pbabcock@dailyherald.com

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