Friday, January 20, 2006

Berard Tests Positive (But Not In The NHL)

The NHL drug testing has recently started. While it is uncertain if steroids are a problem in the NHL, there is one positive case for the NHL to deal with (or more likely not deal with) today. It is reported that Bryan Berard of the Columbus Blue Jackets tested positive for 19-norandrosterone, an anabolic steroid agent, as part of the United States Anti-Doping Agency's out-of-competition testing program.

The US tested 100 prospective Olympians and Berard was apparently the only one to fail. Berard is now banned from international competition for two years. This won't make any significant difference in the short term since Berard was not chosen for the US Olympic team.

Berard claims that this positive test occurred because of the nandrolone was in a nutritional suppliment he was taking, but has since discontinued taking. This argument is plausable because International Olympic Committee tests have found nandrolone in 14% of over the counter muscle-building suppliments that are maketed as "natural", "safe" or "steroid-free". Of course, this is a convenient cover for anybody who tests positive.

Since Berard's positive test was not administered by the NHL and the NHLPA, under the CBA he is not supposed to be punished. Which is a somewhat hypocritical position for the NHL to take.

Berard's claims lead to an interesting question. What percentage of the positive drug tests will be completely unintentional (such as taking a supposedly steroid-free nutritional suppliment)? Can this percentage be clearly identified? Is it fair to treat them the same as people who were intentionally on steroids? And in a slightly different vein, since players can only be disciplined if they are caught by an NHL/NHLPA test, is it fair that players caught with steroids in their possession or players who fail other tests (such as Berard's test) get no punishment at all?

I just found your blog today, and I must admit it is nice to see some decent writing outside the major sports networks on the sport of hockey. That said, I think you're taking an interesting view on the steroid issue. You state that the NHL is hypocritical in it's line to not suspend Berard for his positive testing, yet in the sentence before that you mention that the test was an Olympic sanctioned test and not an NHL(PA) sanctioned one. The NHL should not be labeled as hypocritical for following the agreement they reached with the NHLPA. If you break a law in the United States and serve the appropriate sentence, you will not be arrested upon arriving in Canada. My point is this, the NHL/NHLPA and the USOC are separate governing bodies. Berard passed his NHL steroid test, this is why he has not been punished by the NHL.

Also, you state, "Of course, this is a convenient cover for anybody who tests positive." Would you rather have a player admit to knowledgeably taking a supplement that contained steroids ("I made a mistake"), instead of declaring before the government that they "never took steroids, and never will" a la Rafael Palmiero?

Lastly, you mention that this won't make any significant difference in the short term since Berard was not chosen for the team. It won't make a giant difference as far as what teams he may play on, but it will make a difference regarding his reputation, and the reputation of hockey players in general. I do not think that hockey has a rampant steroid problem, but it would not be good for the game if non-converted potential fans thought the game was full of steroid freaks. As an obvious fan of the game, I challenge you to support a stance that condemns Berard for what he did but still supports the rules in place. Assuming that there is more behind the Berard story than has been admitted is (although a possibility) not a road hockey should like to travel.

Again, thanks for writing a great blog. I look forward to your updates. As you will notice if you check out my blog, I am a CBJ fan. While your first reaction would be to say this is why I come down hard on you for your Berard stance, I can honestly say this is not the case. My first reaction to hearing the news was, "Why did it have to be a Bluejacket?" We already fight for acceptance in the world of hockey, and this does not help our image. But upon seeing the situation unfold, I'm left to assume the testimony presented is true and hockey will recover. Good writing, thanks for listening!

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