Media drop puck for not calling out NHL on ‘inept drug program’

Updated September 6, 2018 - 5:24 pm

George McPhee said his organization supported the player, that he testified on Nate Schmidt’s behalf during the appeal process. He said that every supplement and vitamin and morsel of food the Golden Knights provide their team is National Science Foundation approved, that they test often and compile defensible documentation and are in a good place in regard to performance-enhancing drug issues.

And still, Schmidt sits.

McPhee, the Knights’ general manager, on Thursday addressed for the first time the defenseman being suspended by the NHL for 20 games, a result of Schmidt violating the league’s PED policy.

“It’s unfortunate that it happened — but the standards were pretty tough,” McPhee said. “This organization isn’t responsible for this. It didn’t come from us … now, you’re going to say the onus is on (Schmidt), but I can tell you in this process, a lot of you could go for a protein shake someplace around here and be positive tomorrow.”

Um, probably not.

It’s sort of astronomical in odds to believe your Mocha Madness from Tropical Smoothie is going to increase your level of testosterone or otherwise improve your endurance — although it can be hell on the waistline — but there’s always a chance before or after a lift at the gym that some unscrupulous character in the back might taint that scoop of protein with an added (banned) boost of something.

The onus for testing positive is on Schmidt. It’s always on the athlete.

He said in a statement that the only supplements he uses are provided by his NHL team. Given how McPhee responded Thursday, the implication is that the positive test came from an outside source.

But another part of this is on us.

Most media (my hand is raised) have dropped the puck, if you will, on the issue of drug testing in the NHL, whether our specific town included a franchise or not. Congress forced baseball into action some years back, and the NFL also was politically pushed toward more legitimate levels of testing, but the NBA and NHL sort of sat off stage and were never really publicly challenged to offer a serious option.

Which left us with this in regard to the NHL:

“The most inept drug program in all of professional sports,” said Victor Conte, the BALCO doping guru who for years helped athletes figure out ways to evade testing positive. “You could drive a Mack Truck through all the holes in hockey’s program. There is no transparency to it whatsoever. We have no idea what this guy (Schmidt) tested for. The program was designed to enable, harbor and promote the use of PEDs.

“It’s all smoke and mirrors, and they know it. This is an IQ test more than actually testing for drugs. Until there is a genuine interest by those who receive the major financial gains from hockey to catch cheaters, you will continue to have a rampant use of PEDs.”

Testing not absolved

The fact that from 2005 to 2017 the NHL suspended only five players for PED use means nothing.

The testing process isn’t absolved because of it.

Not when there is no testing on game days, when players could use any supplements or micro dose with testosterone or small levels of EPO and have it all out of their systems by the next day. Not when players know beforehand that one of two no-notice tests per year will occur in training camp. Not with just a mandatory leaguewide maximum of 60 offseason tests in a league of 700-plus players, and when there is ample warning before the test to cleanse one’s system.

“By and large, we have a clean sport and want to keep it that way,” McPhee said. “I fully support the NHL having this program, and there are some very intelligent people at the league that put this program together and we support it.”

That’s the public perception. I understand McPhee defending it. It’s the league he played in, the league he works for, the league he loves.

He might even believe it.

But nobody in the doping world with any semblance of credentials does. They know it’s a farce.

And yet the onus for the program not being scrutinized on a deeper and more profound and specific level falls on all of us in my business. It’s a much bigger deal than Nate Schmidt.

Fans won’t care. They’re not supposed to.

But that doesn’t mean we should accept something that’s untrue.

Schmidt got popped. Maybe he failed the IQ test. Maybe it really was unintentional.

Whatever the reason, it wasn’t because hockey has some great drug testing program.

“Zero transparency,” Conte said. “Absolutely none.”

More Golden Knights: Follow all of our Golden Knights coverage online at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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