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Diana Taurasi took questions from a friendly media crowd on a conference call today. She answered questions about what happened with her doping dismissal from her Turkish club team, what impact that's had on her, and where she goes from here.
"I definitely have the greatest sigh of relief. Yesterday and today, I finally feel like I can start putting it behind me. I do feel vindicated. I feel like the facts came out with all the information on the table," Taurasi said.
The Phoenix Mercury star made it clear that she expects some sort of justice for the lab in Turkey that was responsible for not only her false positive test but also for what happened to three other athletes that were also cleared in the process.
"I feel like someone has to take the responsibility for this. It can't just happen and just get washed away and you say sorry and everything goes away. This can affect a lot of athletes throughout the world and it's not fair."
Diana wouldn't go into the details of her case that eventually cleared her name beyond saying it was a mistake in chemistry by the lab. She discounted notions that there was any kind of conspiracy against her, citing the mistaken tests of two other soccer players along with herself and another female basketball player.
Moving forward, Taurasi said she will have to "take a better and closer look at where I pursue my basketball career." Her faith in the system has been shaken as a result of this ordeal and while she's not ruled out legal action she clearly isn't ready to let the matter die.
On the call, Diana expressed thanks to her fans, family and friends who stood beside her but also made it clear she was hurt by those who didn't believe in her.
"There were two sides. There were people judging me at the drop of a dime but then there was the other side where the fans were great, my family, my friends, people who've known me for a long time and their unwavering support. It was two fold."
Moving forward, Taurasi plans to use the next three months to prepare for the WNBA season and take advantage of the down time to work on her game. It's a luxury she's not had in seven years as a professional basketball player going from the WNBA season, to playing overseas, to playing for USA Basketball.
"I'm going to use this as something I've never had before and that's to get myself in the best physical shape that I can be in and work on some things on the court...I'm looking forward to it."
On a personal note, I was skeptical of Taurasi's innocence from the beginning and don't apologize for it. That has nothing to do with my appreciation for Diana's game or the way she lives her life, but the bottom line with athletes is that we really don't know them or understand what they are capable of doing.
My doubt in Taurasi was always more about having faith in a testing system that's been proven right time and time again then it was about any distrust in her character. There are very few people in this world we truly know and I certainly wasn't going to pass such judgement on Diana based on how well I thought I knew her. To assume any sort of intimacy with her deepest values and beliefs isn't warranted outside her closest circle.
Barring a false insight into her soul, I simply went by all the doping history in sports. This incident, the first case I can recall of a doping result being overturned so quickly and so firmly, changes how we respond to future incidents. There is now a precedence for what had in the past always turned out to be hallow excuses.
I am glad Diana been cleared so quickly and completely. I am glad I get to watch her play without any doubt of cheating and I am glad that I can tell my daughters about this great athlete. To those who had faith in her, I am glad your trust has been vindicated.
Diana Taurasi proclaimed her innocence, accused the lab of mishandling the test, took a polygraph and now has been cleared by the Turkish Basketball Federation according to this report from the Associated Press.
"The Federation has decided to lift the precautionary ban imposed on player Diana Lorena Taurasi to prevent the club and the player from being aggrieved further," the Turkish body said in a statement Wednesday.
The highly unusual move allows Taurasi to return to her club team, Fenerbahce, is she so choices and clears her to play for Team USA in the 2012 Olympics. Taurasi, along with long-time teammate Penny Taylor, left Turkey as a result of the incident and are believed to be in California. Both are scheduled to report for training camp with the Phoenix Mercury in May.
According to the AP report, "the federation also lifted the provisional doping suspension for American player Monique Coker, who plays for Ceyhan Belediyesi and had tested positive for modafinil in doping tests carried out by the same lab."
This is the best possible news for the Phoenix Mercury and WNBA who have cloud lifted from above one of their most well-known stars.
Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi, who tested positive for the banned substance Modafinil two months ago in Turkey, has passed a polygraph test that may turn her case according to an ESPN report. The polygraph was conducted by former Chicago police officer John Fritz on January 18, and it consisted of only two questions.
First, Fritz asked Taurasi if she had ever taken Modafinil or any similar generic brand name drug in the past. He then followed up this question by asking Taurasi if she had lied to the Turkish Basketball Federation when stating that she had never used Modifinil or any similar generic brand name drug. Fritz's report of the polygraph reads as follows: "Subject was truthful when she answered ‘no' to the above relevant questions."
Taurasi's defense attorney Howard Jacobs has submitted the evidence to the Turkish Basketball Federation, and Jacobs now has more compelling evidence to discredit the results of Taurasi's urine samples. In addition to the findings of this polygraph test, Jacobs can (and will) point to a mishandling of the samples prior to their testing. The Turkish authorities have no documentation for where Taurasi's urine samples were kept during a seven-day period in December during which the samples were moved from Istanbul to Ankara.
Jacobs will also claim that Taurasi's samples fall outside of the allowable margin of error sanctioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). As Jacobs puts it, "This goes right to the heart of identification. It's unclear based on these tests that we're even talking about Modafinil." The fact that the Ankara lab (where Taruasi's urine samples were tested) had its drug-testing credentials suspended for three months by WADA in 2009 will only strengthen Jacobs' bid to discredit the urine sample results.
The Turkish Basketball Federation will rule on Taurasi's case within the next few weeks, and the decision could have huge repercussions for Taurasi. If things do not go her way, Taurasi will not be allowed to represent the United States in the 2012 Olympics, and she will also lose the opportunity to play abroad while being an active member of the WNBA. Taurasi, of course, is expected to appeal to the Turkish Sports and Youth Arbitration Assocation if the Turkish Basketball Federation rules against her.
Robert Sarver, Managing Partner for the Phoenix Suns and Mercury, released the following statement this week in support of Diana Taurasi.
"Throughout the time I've known Diana, she has impressed me with her purist approach to the game. I don't believe she would ever do anything to cheat the game she loves or her own performance - that's just not who she is. When she has made a mistake before, she has immediately acknowledged it and handled it in an honest and straightforward manner."
Diana Taurasi, one of the best and most accomplished athletes in Arizona sports history, has broken her silence and given an interview to the Associated Press about her recent positive drug test for the banned substance Modafinil. Taurasi was dismissed from her Turkish club team, Fenerbahce, several weeks ago after both her A and B samples revealed traces of the drug. Sources in Phoenix close to Taurasi continue to insist that the lab was at fault and believe that she will eventually be cleared and that news helpful to her cause could be revealed soon.
"I had never heard of it and couldn't pronounce it," Taurasi told the AP in her denial. "I had to Google it to find out the side effects. I never have come in contact with it."
The Phoenix Mercury have been officially tight-lipped about the entire incident, although sources close to the situation have consistently echoed Taurasi's lawyer's assertions that the lab in Ankara, Turkey, is at fault, either through negligence or perhaps foul play.
In recent days, those sources have stated that numerous other athletes, both male and female involved in various sports in Turkey, have also tested positive by the same lab for the same drug and even at the exact same levels.
These allegations, from those close to Taurasi and with an interest in her being both a competitive and marketable asset, have not been confirmed, despite attempts to find independent corroboration. These sources, however, now believe that the information that will help Taurasi will soon come to light.
Taurasi's teammate, friend, and fellow Phoenix Mercury star, Penny Taylor recently left Fenerbahce, as well. Taylor cited personal reasons for leaving, but the team speculated that Taylor felt responsible for Taurasi's situation.
"Penny Taylor believes that she played an important role in Diana Taurasi's transfer (from Spartak to Fenerbahce) and when she learned that Diana had forbidden substances in her urine, she felt responsible for that."
There are no indications at this time that Taurasi would be prevented from playing for the Mercury in the 2011 WNBA season.
Word today that the 'B' sample confirmed the initial finding that Diana Taurasi tested positive for a banned stimulant wasn't surprising. That's how these things usually work. More startling was the portion of the report that carried her denial of using the drug modafinil through the mouth of her former UConn coach, Geno Auriemma. While understandable given everything at stake, complete denial at this stage potentially digs her hole even deeper.
Taurasi stands to lose a lot of money over this incident. Her voided contract for this season could be worth in excess of $500,000 and she puts at risk numerous sponsorship and endorsement relationships. That's a powerful motive to deny wrong-doing, not to mention the natural human reaction to lie in order to save face.
It should go without saying that it is also fully possible that Taurasi is completely innocent. But proving that conclusively and removing this stain from her name is going to be very difficult.
When is the last time you can recall an athlete failing a doping test like this and then being cleared completely? I can't recall one instance. On the other hand, there are countless cases of denials being proven false after an extended legal process that, years later, ends in a sorrowful admission of guilt.
It is impossible to know the details of Taurasi's case and only she and her high-powered attorney can decide what's best for her. However, given that the substance at question has multiple legitimate uses, one would think a better course for her would be to quickly admit to the mistake and move on. If that's the truth.
The truth is a novel concept in these situations, but people are mighty forgiving when they are treated with respect.
If the truth is that she used the drug for whatever purpose, continued and extended denials won't serve her cause at all. In the long run, Diana risks doing far more damage to herself if, years from now, she admits a mistake or if the legal process is dragged out and eventually confirms her guilt.
The pickle for her is that if the truth is really her innocence, then she's going to have only her word to rely on. Unfortunately for her, the word of famous athletes has been long since tarnished.
But if that's her path, she needs to quickly make herself available to the media and be as public and vocal as possible. Denials through proxies and continued seclusion is the worst of all worlds.
The Associated Press is reporting today that the Turkish sports club Fenerbahce has terminated the contract of Phoenix Mercury star guard Diana Taurasi. Taurasi failed a routine doping test and had the second 'B' sample confirm the initial findings, which showed the presence the banned substance modafinil.
According to the AP report, Taurasi told Geno Auriemma -- her former UConn coach, who also coaches Team USA -- that she didn't take modafinil. Her attorney, one of the leading experts in defending athletes accused of doping, has raised doubts over the reliability of the testing facility. Two of Taurasi's Fenerbahce teammates refused to participate in any more drug testing unless a different lab was used.
The positive test now brings into question Taurasi's status and availability to play for Team USA in the 2012 Olympics. According to international rules, if she is suspended for six months or more, then she is barred from Olympic competition.
The WNBA and the Phoenix Mercury have the option under the Collective Bargaining Agreement to initiate their own investigation and could potentially suspend Taurasi, as well. So far, the Mercury and the league have refused to comment on this case.
News of Diana Taurasi testing positive for the banned substance Modafinil has sent shock waves through the WNBA and sports communities. It is big news when things like this involve big stars and Taurasi is a big star. Each person will react in their own way based on the information available and can draw their own conclusions. For me, the watch word with these things is skepticism and there's a lot here to be concerned about.
As someone who's had the privilege of covering and interacting with Taurasi over the last two years, I sincerely hope that she's fully cleared. She's one of my favorite athletes and is as competitive and dedicated to her sport as anyone, anywhere. Watching her play and watching her prepare to play is the kind of sporting treat that doesn't come along very often. She is a truly special player and I hope for her personally and her fans that this whole mess turns out to be nothing.
But that doesn't mean that my hope will get in the way of my skepticism and the facts as they present themselves; and in this case, there are some troubling signs.
1. We know that she tested positive for the stimulant Modafinil based on the statement from the Turkish Basketball Federation. The fact that those test results were released early and through non-official channels is unfortunately par for the course with major doping scandals in Europe and a minor blip in the entire story.
2. Taurasi's "A" sample tested positive and by process, that means the "B" sample will now be tested. Reports are that the results of that second test won't be available until early January. The "A" and "B" samples, however, are really the same thing. The urine is provided by the athlete and then split into two containers and sealed. When the "A" sample tests positive the "B" sample from the same person taken at the same time is tested again as confirmation.
This is a more rigorous process used than most work-place drug testing procedures. In fact, when I was in the Army, people would regularly be disciplined based on the results of just one test. In athletics, it is extremely rare for the results of the "B" test to differ from the "A" test, which is why the initial results are a "big deal". Still, in all cases, it is worth waiting for the second result to confirm the first.
3. The drug Taurasi tested positive for has prescription uses, including treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder and the sleep disorder, narcolepsy. If, however, Taurasi has a prescription for the drug, this matter would likely not require her to hire Howard Jacobs, the premier lawyer when it comes to defending athletes in doping scandals. Perhaps that's a wrong assumption and perhaps she only wanted the best to help explain her legitimate use of the drug. I can hope so, but certainly can't assume that, either. Either way, anything coming from her attorney has to be taken with some grains of salt. His job is to protect Taurasi and use the media to influence opinion on her case and he's very skilled at his job.
4. If it turns out the sample is confirmed and Taurasi is determined to have taken a banned substance in violation of the various anti-doping rules then much of this comes down to intent.
The drug Modafinil has been on the list of banned substances since 2004 because it can help athletes increase performance. It is also a drug used for other purposes, such as creating enhanced states of happiness and alertness. This 2009 Time Magazine article describes its addictive properties as it debunks the idea that Modafinil is a "safe party drug."
Did she take the drug to increase athletic performance? As a "party drug"? For some other purpose? Unless Taurasi releases a statement, it is unlikely we would ever know that answer.
5. When NBA star (or at least one-time star) Rashard Lewis tested positive for HGH, it was treated as a news story but not made into a broader statement about the entire NBA. Let's hope that's the case here, whatever the outcome.
Late last night, the news broke that Phoenix Mercury and all-around sports superstar Diana Taurasi tested positive for a banned substance on a routine drug test. The test was administered in Turkey, where Taurasi is playing with Mercury teammate Penny Taylor with Club Fenerbahce. In a statement released today by the Turkish Basketball Federation, the substance was identified as the stimulant Modafinil.
According to the statement, the sample was taken on November 13 and has since tested positive for the presence of the banned substance. Modafinil is described as drug used in prescription form to help reduce sleepiness in patients suffering from narcolepsy. The drug was added to the banned substance list in 2004 due to its ability to enhance athletic performance by reducing the perception of exhaustion.
The statement from the Turkish Basketball Organization states that the second or "B" sample results will be released when they are available.
Taurasi's lawyer Howard Jacobs has stated that the basketball star will be vindicated when the full facts are known and has insinuated that Taurasi was treated unfairly by the testing agency, who released the results information prematurely. Jacobs' legal practice focuses on defending athletes accused of using banned substances. He was described by a USA Today article as "drug testing's version of Johnnie Cochran, an attorney who becomes high profile because high-profile clients turn to him during a crisis."
Having followed other doping cases involving athletes in Europe and consulted with SB Nation's cycling experts, it is not uncommon for the "A" test results to be released to the media when the case involves high profile athletes. It will likely be another week or two before the "B" test results are known, according to reports. In the meantime, there's little to do but wait and avoid speculating either way about this case.
The Phoenix Mercury have not yet made any statement regarding their star player.
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