Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Jason Grimsley And The NHL

One story the NHL is putting out in the media for public relations purposes is that the NHL administered 1406 drug tests this season and found zero violations. They want to show this as evidence that the NHL is drug free. I think it is more likely evidence that the NHL drug testing is not very strong.

In pre-Olympic drug tests, Bryan Berard tested positive for steroids and Jose Theodore tested positive for the steroid masking agents in Propecia (a hair restoration drug). It is almost certain that Theodore was using Propecia to mask his baldness and not any steroid use. Since these tests were not tests administered by the NHL, the NHL CBA says there is nothing that can be done to punish these players. These tests do not count among the 0 for 1406 record the NHL has. Yet they draw a lot of questions about the NHL mark. It appears that there were players in the NHL who were taking substances that could be found with a better drug testing system, the NHL failed to find any.

There are several problems with the NHL drug testing system. First it tests for a very limited number of drugs (steroids). It does not test for stimulants that are banned by the Olympic Committee, and are believed to be a much bigger problem in the NHL (ie Sudafed). It does not test for steroid masking agents. Thus it is very possible that there are players taking steroids and masking them. It does not test outside of competition. Thus a player can take steroids while training in the off season as long as they stop for the regular season. If there is overwhelming evidence that a player took steroids, but the evidence does not come in the form of an NHL administered drug test, nothing can be done about it. See for example the case of Bryan Berard.

As a case in point, let’s look at baseball player Jason Grimsley. Grimsley was a pitcher with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Grimsley has been involved in an American federal investigation on steroids. His house was searched for six hours Tuesday. Grimsley had a package containing two kits of human growth hormone intercepted by authorities that was sent to his home in April. He has admitted to steroid use and claims it is a rampant problem in baseball. He is cooperating with US agents in their steroid investigation. He has NOT failed a baseball drug test. He has been released by the Arizona Diamondbacks and suspended for 50 games by major league baseball. According the NHL's drug testing rules, unless he failed an NHL administered drug test, there is nothing they could do to him. There is nothing the NHL could do if they had a case like that of Jason Grimsley.

Here is a TSN story on Jason Grimsley's situation.

The fact the NHL has found zero drug users in its testing and other agencies have found some positive tests among NHL players implies that there are some performance enhancing drug users to be found but the weak drug testing is not finding them. I do not believe hockey has the same level of drug use as baseball, but I do not believe that it is entirely non-existent either. It would raise the credibility of the NHL’s claims that the league is relatively clean and they are actively trying to keep it that way if we had an occasional positive drug test reported. 0 for 1046 is not a plausible scenario. There are gaping holes in the NHL drug testing system and likely some players are taking advantage of them.

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