In what is perhaps an unprecedented display of support for an athlete who is accused of using a banned substance, several current and former players are coming out in support of 31-yr-old American player Robert Kendrick, who has been handed a 12-month suspension for testing positive at the French Open.

To date, no less than John McEnroe, Tom Gullikson, John Isner, Robert Ginepri, and James Blake have voiced their disagreement with the punishment handed down on Kendrick.

As for Kendrick – he claims to have innocently taken a jet lag pill and that he even checked the ingredients on the Internet to ensure none violated International Tennis Federation (ITF) rules.

Was Kendrick trying to enhance his performance on the court? That’s impossible to say. While the support he’s receiving does reflect well on his overall character, it certainly doesn’t qualify as proof of his innocence any more so than does the positive test prove that he was intentionally trying to cheat.

More to the point in this case is whether or not the punishment handed down by the ITF is overly harsh. At first glance, a 12-month suspension for what appears to be a minor infraction appears extreme. Then again, other professional sports are frequently criticized for being too soft on performance enhancing drugs and so it’s difficult, and perhaps a bit hypocritical, for sports fans to criticize the ITF for taking a hard stand.

Sentiment is certainly on Kendrick’s side, as he has expressed his desire to have the suspension lifted prior to the US Open, which would be his last before he retires from tennis. At the time of this writing, nearly 750 people have joined in the Kendrick’s support by liking the Free Kendo Facebook page.

The outcome of this case will certainly be interesting. If Kendrick’s suspension is lifted in time for him to play the US Open and the next year witnesses a rash of players testing positive for banned substances, there will no doubt be criticism of the ITF for being too soft on performance enhancing drugs. On the other hand, if the suspension is upheld the organization risks being viewed as draconian and heartless.

As sad, unfortunate, and perhaps unfair as this situation is for Kendrick, if the ITF is serious about keeping drugs out of tennis this suspension needs to be upheld. It’s an extreme punishment to be sure, but to keep a sport clean extreme measures are likely necessary.

What do you think? Should Kendrick’s suspension be lifted in time for him to play in the US Open, or should the ITF hold strong and ban him for the full 12 months?

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