For any of you wondering... I'm in grade 12, and I'm looking to go into journalism. In my journalism class, we had to write a feature story, and here's mine!
Recent Allegations Tarnish Canada’s Game’s Once Clean Image
The once amazing images of hockey, Henderson scoring in the goal mouth, Orr flying through the air, and Mario Lemieux bearing down on the goal, all seem like distant memories. Hockey’s reputation was as pristine as the ice the players skated on, but hockey fans have had these images replaced by allegations of doping, and the substance abuse by its pro-athletes’. It’s only been three years since Dick Pound accused the NHL of letting players get away with cheating. Pound suggested that one-third of NHL players used steroids or other banned performance enhancers. These comments rattled and shook the hockey world, and Pound was demonized. The NHL, in the wake of Pound’s remarks, promptly put into place a drug testing system. Pound would scrutinize the NHL’s drug testing, due to its lack of off-season testing and the not testing for some banned substances.
According to the NHLPA’s website, the drug testing program is as follows: Once the player learns about the system prior to the season, he is subject to up to 3 “no notice” (random) drug tests. If a player is caught with a banned substance in his system, the penalties are as follows: A 20 game suspension for the first offense, 60 games for a second, and a permanent ban for a third, after two years, the player may apply for re-instatement. These “no-notice” tests happen without warning, and can happen at any point during the season. Players can be tested up to three times without notice, but each player is tested at least once. One problem with this system is that after a team gets their 3rd test they know that they won’t be tested again so they may be able to use performance enhancers, and get away with it. Also, the list of banned substances does not include stimulants banned by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). Dick Pound says that the NHL policy isn’t up to par with its list of banned substances, such as stimulants and HGH (human growth hormone).
Yet so far only one player has caught under the new policy. Former New York Islanders, and current Minnesota Wild defenseman Sean Hill. Hill received a 20 game suspension in last year’s playoffs (1 playoff game and 19 regular season games). However defenseman Bryan Berard was caught using steroids in Olympic testing prior to the Turin Olympics. He wasn’t disciplined by the NHL since it wasn’t caught in their program, and goaltender Jose Theodore was caught using a stimulant masking substance, Propecia, a hair restoration tonic. Montreal Canadians head physician said Theodore had been taking for nearly a decade on the advise of a dermatologist for his hair growth. Many players who are caught on steroids claim that it must have been in supplements they took, and future drug tests tend to support their claim, as was the case with Hill. Perhaps the facts that only one player has been caught under the NHL’s drug testing program, may support Pound’s criticism. Don’t follow? Well look at it this way, Mr. Pound scorned the NHLs banned substances list since it didn’t have all of WADA’s banned stimulants. With players admitting, suggesting and exposing players lately it seems that more than one player should have been caught. Makes sense doesn’t it?
In an interview with Montreal magazine, La Presse, veteran NHL defenseman Stephane Quintal, told reporters at a book launch for Memoires d'Un Dur a Cuire, that he thought about 40% of the players he encountered had taken stimulants, and many tougher physical players took anabolic steroids. Memoires d'Un Dur a Cuire, a book about former Montreal Canadians player Dave Morissette, a veteran of twelve NHL games, who had admitted to using anabolic steroids during his hockey career. The book is like Jose Canseco’s book in which he named players who took steroids, but Morissette gets praise and respect from his peers and the sporting world, for not name dropping. In a related situation, Dennis Bonvie, a NHL enforcer who mainly played in the AHL thorough his career, says that he has fought players on steroids, but he doesn’t believe the issue is wide spread through hockey. Future Hall of Fame, and current Detroit Red Wings defenseman, Chris Chelios says that no players in the NHL use steroids. Chelios must have somehow forgot that Sean Hill and Bryan Berard had tested positive for steroids prior to his statement. Yet it sure doesn’t seem that performance enhancers are as common in the NHL as the other big 4 sports (baseball, basketball, football).
Where is the problem starting? Why are these hockey players taking steroids, and ruining their bodies? Could the answer be in youth hockey? According to a Toronto fitness trainer, he has been approached by fathers seeking steroids for their 14 year old hockey playing sons. He never gave any out, but he knows at least one father put his son on “the juice”. This is just unacceptable. The “Win at all costs” attitude in youth hockey has been a driving force for youth to use steroids. Is the issue starting at a younger age? Should we be testing youngsters as a deterrent? Something needs to be done to stop the steroid use in youth hockey. All the steroid related deaths in “professional” wrestling should be something that scares people away from using ‘roids’. Yet steroid use in hockey is starting when kids are just starting to get acne. It is a terrible thought, and one that can’t just be ignored, and shoved under the carpet. Pre-teen hockey players are being given glucose pills by their coaches because of the “Win at all costs” attitude. Is the attitude to blame for performance enhancing substance use at the pro-level? The exploitation of you players and the pressure on youth hockey players to win can lead to doping, and also substance abuse and addiction as well.
Unlike other sports, the NHL’s drug testing policy does not include narcotics such as cocaine and heroine. To help NHL players suffering from addiction and who use controlled substances, league bosses, and NHLPA leaders came up with the NHL’s “Substance Abuse Policy and Assistance Program”, to help players get clean. Substance abuse by athletes is fairly new in the other big 4 major sports, but the NHL has had issues since the early 1970’s. 1978 saw the initialization of the program. The first player to enter was a New York Rangers player, Don Murdoch. Murdoch was arrested for cocaine possession and was suspended for 40 games by the league, as was Ric Natress, a Calgary Flames defenseman in 1983. Infamous enforcer, Bob Probert, was caught smuggling cocaine into the US. Probert served a 90 day prison sentence, and was banned for life from the NHL, but was re-instated after one year. Star players have been in and out of the NHL’s Substance Abuse Program, most notably former Maple Leafs, Stars, Blackhawks and Sharks goalie Ed Belfour, and Calgary Flames former star Theoren Fleury. Other fairly notable players are: Mark Bell, Sandis Ozolinsh, Kevin Stevens, Borje Salming, and Ken Danyko. Most notable of all is Hall Of Fame goaltender Grant Fuhr, who admitted to cocaine use, and was suspended for a year. These alone are alarming cases, and these are just big name players. The list of players who were/are career minor-leaguers or NHL fourth-liners is quite extensive as well such as the NHL’s most recent program alumni. This past NHL season saw New York Islanders and Minnesota Wild tough guy, Chris Simon suspended for 35 games for two major on ice infractions, a stick to the face of a New York Rangers player late last season, and stomping on a players leg with his skate this year. Simon entered the NHL’s substance program voluntarily, as he has had issues with alcohol. NHLer’s who had substance abuse issues, yet didn’t enter the program are: Derek Sanderson (1967 Calder Trophy winner), Gary Lupul, Link Gaetz, Miles Gilbert “Tim” Horton, and John Kordic. Kordic was involved in a terrible story, which could have been prevented if players were forced to enter the program in its earlier days.
John Kordic is probably one of the more infamous stories in the NHL’s history. Kordic was a tough guy enforcer who accumulated 997 penalty minutes in just 244 NHL games. On August 8, 1992, police officers were summoned to a hotel room in L'Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec. Kordic was trashing the room, and it took 9 police officers to subdue him. Following the struggle, Kordic was taken to the hospital; where he subsequently died of hear failure. It was found that excessive force, and incompetence on the part of the ambulance attendance resulted in Kordic’s death. 0.1 milligrams of cocaine were found in Kordic’s system. Dr. Georges Miller said it was the most cocaine he had seen in somebody’s blood in his 20 years of practice. John Kordic was just 27 years old.
Kordic isn’t the only NHL player to die due to substance (over) use. Hall of Famer Tim Horton, died of a car accident in 1974, which could have been prevented if the NHL had had the program in place just 10 years earlier. It was found in an autopsy report in 2005 that his blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit at the time which was .1% compared to 0.08% now. Pelle Lindbergh, the star goaltender for the Philadelphia Flyers, died from a car accident while driving under the influence. Lindberg had won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender the previous season and was well on his way to superstardom when he crashed his car into a wall in front of a New Jersey elementary school on November 10, 1985. Most recently, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Steve Chiasson, was killed in a drunk driving incident. Chiasson had been at a teammate, Gary Roberts’ house for a party shortly after the Hurricanes were eliminated from the playoffs. Chiasson was leaving the party, when teammates tried to get him to call a cab. Chiasson refused and insisted he drive himself home. On May 3, 1999 Chaisson passed away and was survived by his wife and three children.
Yet through the tales of substance abuse, there are success stories, though they are far too few, and far too long in between. Brandon, Manitoba’s Sheldon Kennedy was sexually abused by his junior hockey coach, Graham James from the time he was 14. The abuse drove Kennedy to a life of boozing and drug use from 1990-1996. When Kennedy played for the Detroit Red Wings, he moved in with the afore mentioned Probert, the convicted drug smuggling teammate, and the substance abuse worsened. At one point Kennedy weighed 135 lbs. and holed himself up in his furnace room with a loaded shotgun and a bag of cocaine because he thought someone was in the house with him, coming to kill him. Kennedy has fought his addictions and has been clean for 2 and a half years now. He now serves as a counselor at a Calgary drug rehab clinic.
Sure hockey is a Canadian game, it is a common, almost religious ritual to have a beer or two after the game, but controlled substance use, specifically abuse of it, is far too common in hockey, driving under the influence has always been way to common in hockey. At least 5 NHL players have died from driving under the influence in the past 40 years, and the rates of substance abuse in hockey are much higher than any other of the big 4 major sports.
Steroids appear as if use isn’t so common, and shows that hockey is cleaner, or they are covering it up. The NHL has improved its policies to help the substance abusers get clean, but catching players using narcotics has to be dealt with as players are able to use illicit substances at will, without penalty. Hockey’s most elite league’s policies to stop doping have a long way to go. The NHL needs to step up to the plate, and drive this issue at board meetings like Barry Bonds homerun into the San Francisco Bay. It has to be the most pressing issue for the NHL’s governing body, and they need to clean up the sport, but how. For starters, pro-hockey needs to address stimulants in its testing policy. Maybe use WADA’s list up banned substances, and not have a limit on the number of tests done on players. Maybe, just maybe a more radical solution is needed. So here is this radical plan, why not have NHL players apply to the league for a prescription for a certain steroid from NHL and NHLPA doctors when dealing with an injury. Since steroids are often used to speed up the healing process, this would make sense. Of course the players’ injuries would be tested by an independent doctor, therefore eliminating any bias in the diagnosis. If they get the thumbs up, they must be tested weekly, or bi-weekly to make sure that the steroids are being used at the dosage levels prescribed, and that it is only the one type of substance in their system. If they exceeded the dosage levels, players would be slapped with a suspension, and be fined upwards of $10,000 for violating the leagues trust. That said, something, anything needs to be done to clean up the sport. Because so far, despite all the action, nothing has really been done.