The problem with steroids, or performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), is that they are not like mice.
When you see the mouse pellets in your garage, you know you have mice, and you head to the hardware store to address the problem. PEDs work the other way around: Until you set an expensive series of traps, you can’t have a clue if they’ve infested your sport.
So, with due respect to Schneider, anyone in hockey who issues the above quote, spoken Sunday in New York, does so with absolutely no basis in fact. To those familiar with Olympic testing, the National Hockey League’s last and only positive drug test – New York Islanders Sean Hill in 2007 – does not indicate that steroid use is that rare in hockey. Rather, it exposes the testing regimen as flimsy.
So we reached out to Les Gramantik, a veteran Canadian track and field coach who has spent a lifetime in athletics. He has been Canada’s head track coach, among other positions, through five Olympic Games and nine World Championships.
From women with five o’clock shadows, to men with equine levels of steroids, Gramantik has seen it all through 50 years in the sport.
“In every sport, going right back to the '80s when the athletics was filthier than hell, everyone said, ‘We’ve got no problem,'” Gramantik said. “Until the point that Ben (Johnson) was caught. That was the turning point in athletics.”
Johnson was labeled a cheat and quickly ostracized after testing positive for Stanozolol in Seoul, South Korea. But rigid Olympic drug testing would eventually implicate every man in that 1988 Olympic 100-metre final, over time.
Gramantik, like Dick Pound and anyone who is familiar with World Anti-Doping Agency protocol, points out that the NHL’s program is missing one crucial element:
“The key issue is out of competition drug testing,” Gramantik said. “In reality, these (NHL) guys can go back home in the summer, and they can stuff whatever chemicals into their body they want. That’s what missing compared to Olympic athletes. You’ve got to have out of season (to have an effective program). Which means that someone can show up at your door at 6 am, wherever you are, and you’ve got an hour to pee in a bottle. You’ve got to declare your whereabouts – you can’t just take off for two weeks to nowhere…
“It’s very unpleasant. But it’s reality.”
Schneider sounds as if some form of out-of-competition testing would be acceptable to the NHLPA.
“I think it’s in the players' best interest to close off any possible time during the year where guys could use,” he said, before falling back on the old platitudes. “Again we’ve had one positive (test) in our sport. I don’t think it’s a problem and I don’t think anyone thinks it’s a problem.”
Bryan Berard tested positive as part of Olympic testing and was banned prior to the Turin Games in 2006. Jose Theodore also tested positive for Propecia, a common masking agent, in 2006. He contends he’d taken the hair loss medication for years.
“Is hockey filthy? I can’t tell you it is,” Gramantik said. “We would be stupid to believe that a part of the hockey players – especially the marginal ones – don’t find all the options in the offseason.
“There’s a lot of naivetÃ©. ‘We’re all fine.’ ‘We’re all clean.’ No, we’re not. The biggest performance enhancement drug is money. And the money is growing all the time. The more money there is, the more they’ll try to do things. Sign that guaranteed contract, you’re pretty much set.”
Baseball evidenced that while sluggers like suspected/admitted users Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds used PEDs to chase home run records and make millions, far, far more use was occurring at the bottom of the roster, as pitchers and light-hitting infielders sought the edge that could make the difference between triple-A pay and a minimum big league salary.
“EPO is probably one of the things the hockey player would benefit from the most. They still have strength and power. But EPO … allows you to sustain,” says Gramantik.
EPO, preferred by cyclists and distance runners, gives the user more oxygen in his blood – and better performance – in the last 15 seconds of a shift. Where fighters were thought to use Stanozolol derivatives, an EPO type drug that delivers more red blood cells would help every player to be better.
PEDs also aid in recovery after exertion, an undeniable advantage during a grueling, two-month playoff run.
“I wouldn’t worry about the Sidney Crosbys. Those guys with skills are so superior, they’re at the highest level,” Gramantik said. “But guys jump on the bike in September, and they’re fitness is incredible. Of course they worked hard, but…
“If I’m (a hockey person) I don’t want to be naive anymore. There’s so much out there.”