10 February 2009
This blog post was brought to you by: Jibblescribbits and the letter "A"
Talking about steroids in hockey is an awkward subject simply because it's rare for hockey players to ever get busted for steroids, which is in large part because the NHL is probably cleaner than some other sports, so it makes it easier for the people to write it off with the mythology of the hockey player as all around good guy.
But baseball's problem wasn't only that players used steroids but that everyone, fans, media, management, turned a blind eye to steroids and wrote the initial problems off as isolated incidents. There were rationalizations, such as (obviously paraphrasing):
Steroids will only help sluggers, but position players that rely on agility and defense wouldn't gain any benefit from Steroids.... Baseball writers got caught up in the mythology of baseball as this pure pastime instead of seeing that the players would do anything they had to to hold onto their lively hood.
I see bits of that attitude in hockey reporting as well, and Adrian Dater offered up some of that in his latest blog post.
Baseball hitters need one big burst of power to succeed. Hockey players need to do a lot of different things over a three-hour period, and a lot of extra weight and muscle could be a hindrance to a goal-scorer. A fighter is a different case, but the NHL has an anti-doping policy, and nobody wants to be in the headlines, a la A-Roid.
He's got a point, but one of the main reason's steroids are so widespread in baseball is because they help the body recover from injury a lot faster. This kind of benefit is ideal for a hockey player that ends up playing in a grueling 82 game season full of bumps, bruises, sprains, and of course muscle damage. At the end of the day hockey players are still fathers, husbands, brothers and sons all trying to make life better for their families. It shouldn't be inconceivable that an honroable hockey player would turn to steroids to try and extend his lucrative career to try and keep that professional income for just one more year. Don't forget that most of the players busted for steroids in baseball were journeymen pitchers trying to hold on to a roster spot. Sean Hill was busted, and Alexei Cherepov was also on steroids (apparently pressured by his KHL team) when he died.
That being said the NHL has one tremendous advantage over baseball, and that is the widespread Olympic participation (which, to his credit, the Master Beater mentions as well) . The Olympics have the strictest testing around and only one player that I can remember, Jose Theodore, was ever busted, and that was for Propecia (which is a common masking agent).
Gary Betteman has been a pretty poor commissioner, but I'm all about giving credit where credit is due. Steroids are not a problem in the NHL and that's a testament to his, and the Player Associations willingness to institute a decent doping policy, which are outlined here.
Lets hope the NHL continues to stay a step ahead so that steroids don't become a problem. This is truly a case where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
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