Madisyn Cox Deserves Better Than Getting Shut Out From ISL

madisyn cox
Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Madisyn Cox woke up every morning for six months to the knowledge that she was locked out from swimming and her reputation was tarnished.

She claimed innocence and eventually proved a contaminated multivitamin had caused her to test positive for trimetazidine, knocking her suspension down from two years to six months and clearing her name of any wrongdoing. But Cox still had to deal with the aftereffects, banishment from all major international meets in 2019 and losing her U.S. national team funding.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Cox assumed that by August 2019, “everything would kind of be over.” She wouldn’t have to wake up ever again and think about how the upcoming weeks or months would be different if not for that positive test and sitting out six months.

Not anymore. The International Swimming League (ISL) will debut in October, and Cox won’t be allowed to participate. An ISL general manager recruited Cox but was rebuffed by the league, citing their zero-tolerance doping policy.

Cox believed the decision to lock her out was unfair, but she had no recourse. The day she learned of the ISL’s decision, Cox felt “just so out of sorts” at swim practice as she struggled with the news that the residual punishment for the positive test would linger.

“I’m over here for something I never did,” Cox said. “I took a multivitamin—yes, I did do that—but I was never intentionally cheating. I never would have even thought, and I’m over here paying all these prices. It sucks. I could get emotional about it, and I have, but at this point, I just want it to be over.”

It would be, if not for the ISL’s commitment to a zero-tolerance doping policy, a stance that no other pro sports organization has ever adopted. Penalties for a first offense range from a maximum of a four-year ban to a minimum of a quarter-season, which is the standard in the National Football League in the United States.

Just this past fall in fact, New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman missed the first four games of the season while suspended for testing positive for performance-enhancing substances. Edelman protested the suspension only minimally, returned in the season’s fifth game and resumed his role as the go-to target in New England’s offense.

And as the Patriots captured their sixth Super Bowl title in February, Edelman was the leading receiver for the game, and he was named Most Valuable Player for his efforts. No one mentioned his doping suspension while honoring Edelman for his efforts.

That’s ridiculous, the idea that a player could play such a pivotal role in winning a championship the same season as he was caught cheating.

The NFL’s anti-doping standard is among the flimsiest in sports, but many other leagues aren’t much better. In Major League Baseball, the penalty for a doping offense is an 80-game suspension plus banishment from the postseason. By comparison, the two-year ban most swimmers receive for one offense seems harsh—but definitely deserved.

If a swimmer intentionally cheated to improve their own performance, he or she should not be entitled to a second chance. Yes, the ISL insisting on zero tolerance is admirable and justified. No previously-suspended swimmer should be allowed in, especially not one later caught smashing blood samples earmarked for drug testing.

Who agrees with that philosophy? Madisyn Cox.

“I’m 100% anti-doping,” Cox said. “I do not condone any kind of doping, and I think people who are dopers and who are cheaters should not be allowed to compete. However, I am not in that category.”


Cox with her bronze medal from the 2017 World Championships — Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

Cox proved that she didn’t intentionally cheat. While validating her innocence, she missed a critical six months of her career and an all-important U.S. qualifying period that means she won’t get the chance to return to the World Championships, where she won bronze in the 200 IM in 2017.

That’s already hefty punishment, especially when Cox is hardly the party at fault here. By all means, the scarlet letter of “doper” should apply to anyone who tried to cheat the system. Cox doesn’t fall into that category.

The situation demands some common sense so that Cox and the entire swimming community can put it in the past. She deserves a clean slate. As it stands now, a commendable but inflexible policy is costing Cox the potential of maximizing the remainder of her swimming career.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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    • Conner Andrews

      Forgot to take your crazy pills today? What does that have anything at all to do with this? Get out of here.

  1. Penny Noakes Schuette

    Here is the problem:
    “The situation demands some common sense so that Cox and the entire swimming community can put it in the past.”
    Common sense seems to be dead in this country!

  2. Danny Wong

    An extremely opinionated article!!

  3. avatar
    Laurence A. Becker, PhD

    Thank you David Rieder for your thoughtful article. I would like to invite Madisyn to investigate the Shaklee Pure Performance team of Olympic athletes for information about the #1 all natural nutrition company in the US and in 6 international countries. Shaklee Pure Performance athletes have won over 140 Olympic medals. Shaklee has more published clinical studies than the next 3 nutrition companies combined. Time-Life published a book of the 25 greatest adventures of all time and Shaklee was the subject of 7 of those 25. I am in my 82 + year of life, and I have been a tournament tennis player my entire life. I have been using Shaklee nutritional and sports products since 1974. Someone my age is on an average of over 20 drugs per year. I am on 0 (ZERO). In November 2009, I had both hips replaced at the same time and I was back on the courts in 2 months and at 3 months I won a competitive doubles match. I have since won the state of Texas 75 and over doubles championship. At 5 months I rode in the Hill Country bicycle Ride for AIDS. My longest ride has been 75 miles in 8 hours at 80 years of age. This year will be my 10th ride. My Shaklee “cocktail” made up of Pure Performance products is my only fuel for the ride.
    I look forward to following Madisyn’s future when this unjustified suspension is in the past.
    Laurence A. Becker, PhD
    Austin, Texas

  4. avatar

    When a US swimmer gets caught there’re always so many reasons (excuses).

  5. avatar

    I think the stories are endless of professional athletes testing positive because of contamination and yet still allowed to compete in the professional leagues. Marin Cilic tested positive because of contamination served a suspension and won the Open the following year. Can you imagine the uproar if the young star from the Clemson football team was told he couldn’t compete in the NFL after he tested positive because of contamination? Player Unions would be up in arms if their athletes were denied entry into the leagues because of someone else’s mistake. Is there a single other sport that denies an athlete entrance into the league despite being proven innocent?

  6. Lisa Greenberg

    I agree with her, but also the vitamin company she took vitamins from do not test for banned substances! So technically, she was at her own risk. Hard lesson. She should have k own. In college, that is ingrained in the athletes.

    • avatar

      According to their website they do test

  7. Erika Marie

    Anyone taking performance enhancers should be banned. Life is not fair but rules are for everyone just don’t juice up. Accidentally, right.

  8. Reina Hoffman

    Vitamins?? I guess taking a Centrum isnt good enough. Every athlete claims innocence when they get caught. Should have read and researched the ingredients on the label.

    • avatar

      Well this multi vitamin was actually safer the Centrum/NatureMade or Flinstone! They quarantine, vetted and tested all the raw materials coming into the manufacturing according to their website. A WADA cerftified lab found the contamination in her opened bottle and a completely independent sealed bottle from the same lot number. The company has pulled the vitamin and no longer uses the manufacturer because of this incident. The drug is not only NOT listed in the ingredients it’s illegal to have, manufacture or use in the USA. So exactly who was caught doing what? The ingredients were researched, tested and passed 20 plus drug test. If only uninformed posters could do their due dillegence as such!

  9. avatar

    Thank you for writing this article!! ISL needs to create policy that allows for exceptions in cases such as Madisyn’s. She is clearly not at fault for taking performance enhancing substances and has proven her case with sound proof evidence. These individuals who keep writing in saying she deserves this penalty are out of line. Zero tolerance policies are appropriate, and should absolutely be used when athletes cheat. But it’s not the case for Madisyn Cox.
    Keep fighting Madisyn. You are an amazing role model, inspirational swimmer, and beautiful presence for the swimming community with your giving heart and spirit.

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