Brianna McNeal, the 2016 Olympic 100m hurdles champion who qualified for her second U.S. Olympic team last month, never thought she would tell anyone but her husband and her spiritual advisor about the abortion she had in January 2020. Certainly not and World Athletics, a global athletics management body. Definitely not the public.
Speaking to her after she placed second in the Olympic rehearsal final, McNeal said cryptically, “I want to cry right now. You don’t understand how much I’ve lived through this year. I’m just very emotional. ”
But during two interviews this week, McNeal offered his first public explanation, saying he felt compelled to disclose personal information in order to fight the doping ban and erase his name.
Last month, McNeal, 29, was suspended for five years for “interfering in the results management process” for missing a doping test two days after the abortion. McNeal said she was in bed recovering from the procedure and did not hear the anti-doping officer arrive at the front door of her home in Northridge, California.
In decision announced Friday, The Court of Arbitration for Sport has upheld her five-year ban, meaning McNeal will not have a chance to defend her Olympic title and will miss the next two Summer Games. The court said it would make a detailed decision later. She also added another penalty for her ban: McNeal is now disqualified from all events from February 13, 2020 to August 14, 2020, and should waive all medals, awards and money won during that time.
Gabby Cunningham, who finished fourth in the 100 hurdles in the American trials, will take McNeal’s place in Tokyo.
“Right now, I feel excommunicated from the sport itself and stigmatized, and I think that’s unfair,” McNeal said in a video call before her appeal was denied. “I just don’t believe this justified a suspension at all, let alone a five-year suspension, just for technical reasons, an honest mistake in a very emotional time.”
On the anti-doping authorities of the sport, she added: “They say they protect athletes who are clean, but I don’t feel protected at all. I just feel like I’m being judged for this very big decision I made that really affected my life. “
World Athletics did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The five-year suspension followed a one-year ban McNeal received four years ago for missing three tests over a 12-month period. In that case, she said that she twice forgot to update her place of residence in the system that monitors athletes for random testing. On the third occasion, she said, she made the mistake of entering the time when she would be available.
McNeal said she has now called to discuss abortion because she wanted people to know that the current suspension does not involve anything like unauthorized mixing of a urine sample. She said that “it is not doped and it will never be doped.
McNeal’s case highlights the question of how much anti-doping authorities are doing – or should go – to catch athletes who use illicit drugs while protecting the rights of athletes who are clean.
The book of anti-doping rules is becoming denser and more nuanced, making it difficult for pure athletes to follow every rule. Drug testing technology has become more sensitive, which means that small traces of illicit drugs – perhaps swallowed by consuming unclean food – are shown in the results. Yet athletes and their coaches continue to offer unusual excuses for lack or failure on drug tests, making it difficult for anti-doping authorities to ease any part of the quest to keep the sport clean.
Rus pronunciation of high jumper Danilo Lysenko for example, for the missing tests was that he was undergoing medical examinations at the hospital when he was sought by a drug examiner. In the end, it turned out that the names of the doctors on the paperwork he submitted in his defense were false, and the hospital itself did not exist. Other cases, however, are complex and anti-doping officials must decide how strict they will be in enforcing the rules, if the point is to catch athletes who deliberately cheat.
“No one wants a paper breach or other mistake to prevent a pure athlete from realizing their dreams,” said Travis Tygart, executive director of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, adding that he was not involved in the McNeal case and did not see detailed documentation.
In recent years, some anti-doping authorities have shown that they will seek even the slightest injustice, even if the violation does not prove that the athlete has doped. Honesty is debatable, especially when the athlete made what is obviously a mistake.
McNeal has not been charged with doping. Several deficiencies in the documentation she submitted to prove that she had an abortion are the reason for the ban.
On January 12, 2020, a drug examiner knocked on McNeal’s door but received no response. Nor did anyone answer her phone. Eighteen days later, the Athletic Integrity Unit, which investigates doping in athletics, asked McNeal to explain. She was not asked to respond. She missed only one test in a period of 12 months, and it takes three to initiate a doping violation.
McNeal said in interviews this week that she wanted to be transparent with investigators, so she explained that she underwent a “surprising medical procedure” that left her treated in bed as well. Wanting to protect her privacy, she did not provide more details. But she requested a medical message from an abortion clinic confirming an unnamed medical procedure.
When the message arrived about a month after the abortion, McNeal said, she mistakenly thought the clinic had misunderstood the date of the procedure. So she changed the date from January 10, 2020, two days before the missed drug test, to January 11.
The Athletic Integrity Unit noticed the change and requested further documentation. McNeal sent two more notes to the same doctor, changing the date on both. Investigators saw this and requested medical records from the clinic. McNeal sent documents to prove she was not lying about the proceedings. Investigators then saw that the date of the proceedings was actually January 10 and that she had terminated the pregnancy.
“I tried to keep the abortion private, but they just kept dragging and dragging me, wanting more information,” McNeal said. “I couldn’t believe I was charged with a misdemeanor because my dates were mixed up in just 24 hours. It’s not that the process didn’t happen. ”
At the disciplinary hearing, World Athletics argued that McNeal should have known better than to change notes without confirming the date of the procedure with the clinic.
In her case against her, McNeal said, World Athletics said she did not believe the abortion was so traumatized that she misunderstood the date of the proceedings. Eventually, the organization said, it continued to post on social media and compete in the coming weeks.
McNeal said investigators punished her for visiting a spiritual counselor instead of a psychiatrist while she suffered from depression after an abortion.
“I told them,‘ Oh, really? For me, growing up in a community of blacks, that’s how we deal with everything – we go to church and talk to our pastor or spiritual counselor, “she said. “I just feel like they weren’t compassionate at all.”
McNeal said that as a Christian she felt guilty about the abortion she underwent in order to be able to compete in the 2020 Games. She said she was even more devastated when the Games were postponed until 2021 because the delay meant she could still get child.
McNeal was so shaken and disoriented by the abortion, she said, that it never occurred to her that changing the date would be a bad thing.
Howard Jacobs, one of her lawyers, was taken aback by the fact that the Athletic Integrity Unit had filed a case against McNeal when he could easily back down based on the sensitivity of the circumstances. He said that the athletics federation was more aggressive than any other federation in conducting such cases.
“The question is how far do you go and how reasonable is it,” Jacobs said. “This case leaves a really bad taste in my mouth because they didn’t have to go any further with it. It’s really hard for me with that. “