Rafael Nadal’s recent bid for an ATP tennis comeback will not include playing in the 2013 Australian Open. The Spanish tennis star and world No. 4 is reportedly unable to play because of a stomach virus, according to the Associated Press via ESPN.
Unfortunately for Nadal and his camp, this latest setback has fueled more skepticism from media and fans who have sifted through his injuries and absences for the past six months.
Blogs and fan comments have increasingly grown louder, wondering if Nadal is facing sentencing with a silent ban for performance-enhancing drugs since his departure from the Olympics. Blair Henley’s Doping, Tennis, Nadal: A Connection? is one of many recent articles that attempt to carefully question, but ultimately sully the subject in question.
Speculation without facts is baseless and unfounded, the product of fans-turned-journalists who have a cyber-voice that gives them fifteen minutes of fame or fifteen thousand comments of attention. They have no real evidence.
We live in an age of skepticism when heroes have had their clay feet exposed. From Tiger Woods to Lance Armstrong, nobody is above the scrutiny of guilt or alleged taint. This has further loosened the standards for more accusations on other athletes.
But precedent should not indict those who follow. To do so is to condemn the athlete to conditions that are unfair and libelous at the least, and possibly detrimental and career-destroying.
Are we willing to live in a world where we would be slandered at the whimsical judgments of the ignorant?
Those who would voice baseless speculation in electronic media are not responsible to atone for their errors. They do not have to account for their jobs or livelihood after damning or false statements, but would rather pine for attention and praise with their damaging theories.
What We Know
Nadal has had a history of knee injuries and injections to play through abnormal pain and defective health conditions. His most notable absences have included summer 2009 and the second half of 2012.
This past week, he announced a stomach virus that will ultimately cost him appearances at Abu Dhabi and Australia. The Associated Press added a statement from Nadal:
My knee is much better and the rehabilitation process has gone well as predicted by the doctors, but this virus didn't allow me to practice this past week, and therefore I am sorry to announce that I will not play in Doha and the Australian Open.
We do not know when Nadal will play on the ATP.
Most writers and fans have theorized that Nadal will seek to build his health and confidence carefully in order to defend his clay court titles in the spring. This seems to be his greatest priority.
Guilty by Association
Speculations about athletes and performance-enhancing drugs are all guilt-laden. A famous loaded question in law school exercises asks the defendant, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”
The 21st century has now seen the proliferation of performance-enhancing drugs to the extent that any unusual career deviation is now linked with suspicion by media and fans. Injuries, quick recoveries and career peak performances are now in question.
The problem is that circumstantial clues and correlations are viewed as evidence. In many instances there is indeed a smoking gun. But many innocent athletes are also thrown under the bus, and this is inexcusable.
The joy and beauty of tennis has been characterized by wonderful athletes the past decade. Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have all been great players and ambassadors for their sport. There is no reason to tarnish their legacies.
Whether or not any athlete will eventually be found guilty will be up to the International Tennis Federation. It is not up to others, including former player Yannick Noah, to form their own jury and sentencing. In time, circumstances and evidence will eventually be unveiled to those who are guilty. Until then, there is nothing to discuss.
Nadal is undoubtedly disappointed he cannot compete at this time. Nobody feels worse than he does with his adversity. He deserves time, space and support in his preparations.
Whether fans choose to support Nadal or root against him, the least they can do is refrain from idle gossip. We would all hope the same consideration for ourselves.