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.