Nate Schmidt is fighting for reform, for revisions to the NHL’s drug testing program that led to the Golden Knights defenseman being suspended the first 20 games of last season after a positive test for a performance-enhancing substance.
Which on the surface sounds significant, even admirable.
But there is a far more important scrap in which he should engage, one that finally could deliver a semblance of legitimacy to by far the worst drug program among the four major professional sports.
He should be screaming for transparency.
Without it, reform means nothing.
It remains a point of folly that the NHL and its players association have agreed that the names of substances causing failed tests aren’t to be released.
So when a player such as Schmidt so passionately proclaims his innocence and yet doesn’t reveal publicly what he tested positive for and the date of his last test before being informed, the idea that he should be taken at his word by an already suspecting public is fantasy.
“We live in a world where you’re guilty until proven innocent, and that’s just the way it is,” Schmidt said. “I’m trying as hard as I can to prove mine wasn’t an intentional usage and, yes, in some ways I’m handcuffed by the lack (of transparency) to this.
“I get that it would be nice to have all the information out there so people could realize, ‘Wow, that’s something found in this and that.’ I’m on board with that. I really don’t know how that part would work.”
I do. Fight for it.
Adopt USADA rules
As the team’s top representative to the players association, Schmidt should push for the NHL to adopt the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s testing protocol.
A real program with actual teeth.
Convince your peers. Someone with Schmidt’s personality has a far better chance of swaying the masses than otherwise. He’s unique in this way.
Schmidt said in an ESPN.com article this week and again Tuesday that he wants testing thresholds raised and would view such a move as positive change, but some could easily interpret that as a way for fewer users to get caught as they “legally” micro-dose to remain under allowable limits.
Cheating isn’t a challenge. It’s a science, and the athletes almost always have better chemists on a payroll than the league in which they compete.
The fact that many still refer to the amount found in Schmidt’s sample as “levels so minuscule that it was the equivalent of a pinch of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool” is ignorant and uneducated.
What if he tested positive for synthetic testosterone?
Do you know what that pinch of salt would get him in the Olympic world?
A four-year ban.
So should a player who has tested positive and yet now pushes for change be seen as a champion for improving a laughable program or a fox guarding the hen house?
Is such an example a worthy pursuit or merely Butch Cassidy saying the minimum amount of money you can steal from a bank before going to jail should be raised and he should be the one leading reform?
A CBA issue
See. This is the problem with collectively bargained drug programs. Maybe it’s true Schmidt really did test for a substance such as clenbuterol after ingesting tainted meat, a popular theory as to his positive result.
Or maybe it was testosterone or stanozolol or nandrolone or any other anabolic steroid and was something far more nefarious.
Without all of his drug testing data being released, all his levels, there is no definitive way to make a plausible judgment.
I have researched and written on the subject of PEDs more than I imagined possible, so I’m not naive enough to believe the NHL or NFL or NBA or MLB would come within lifetimes of adopting the USADA system of testing. Heaven knows none of them want it made public how big a problem likely exists throughout their leagues.
Still, a incredibly popular player such as Schmidt can demand transparency and ask others to follow. He’s creating dialogue and remaining intimately involved in the process, as he promised after his positive test.
For this, he should be commended.
But fighting for your good name doesn’t fly anymore. Lance Armstrong spent millions of dollars doing that for years and was juiced to the gills.
And fighting for reform before transparency is meaningless.
Because without the latter, the former means nothing.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.