#63 – The Cult(ure) of Hockey, Part Five – Shooting (up) for Success!

Before I talk about the National Hockey League’s steroid problem and compare American responses to baseball’s steroid problem to the devil-may-care attitude employed by Canada, I want to take a moment to share the fact that there have been two suspensions by the NHL for use of performance-enhancing drugs within eight years. As I write this in 2018 there have been that many suspensions in this season alone within Major League Baseball. Unless hockeymans are just that shucks-golly clean and honest, I’m going to go ahead and suggest that this disparity alone showcases how ineffectual the NHL’s drug testing policies are.

But the fact that athletes use drugs frankly doesn’t interest me. I can even sympathize to a point. The people at the pro-leagues are the finest purveyors of their craft on the planet, and the difference between being a forgettable Mario Mendoza or a superstar equates to hundreds of millions of dollars, unlimited prestige, and the adoration of a generation of future players. I mean, if I was a Major Leaguer with the clout of a Barry Bonds, this blog would be national news. So this isn’t so much a slapping of Canadian athletes themselves as it is the way that the Canadian state as it is an indictment of Canadian sanctimony. For a country that seemingly adores its “sterling reputation”, the Canadian zeitgeist doesn’t seem to mind when players are given carte blanche to inject fuck-knows-what into themselves.

Let’s start the comparison between Canadian and American attitudes towards drug testing. Minor League Baseball serves as a critical farm system for the development of players into Major League talent. The Canadian Hockey League serves a similar function as a preeminent source of NHL talent. The motivations for “making it” in both systems are huge. The incentive to cheat is there for both. Here’s a list of Minor Leaguers who got smacked down in 2016. And here’s a news story about how the CHL didn’t even check for steroid use in 2016. And it’s not like steroids are hard to come by in Canada, as TSN showed by ordering three boxes of illegal performance-enhancing substances from God-knows-where and all three evaded the keen eyes of the Canada Border Service Agency.

The largest and most important anti-doping agency, the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport is actually pretty good at its job, if more than a little draconian in implementation. It’s the only lab in Canada that is accredited to global standards, which is to say it’s the only lab in Canada with any standards. Which is why the CFL cuts ties with them in 2015 after not punishing players for positive drug tests. They have since reformed their anti-doping policies, but it’s not like Hamilton stopped watching the Ti-Cats over it. If you never look at your dead Grandmother’s fancy silverware, does it ever really tarnish?

But nobody cares about the CFL unless they’re from Saskatchewan or Hamilton, Ontario. The CFL Hall of Fame was unceremoniously booted from its address adjacent to Hamilton City Hall and replaced with some useless postsecondary crap. Literally nobody cares. Let’s get back to the NHL now, and talk about the NHL’s Dick Pounding problem from back in the mid-naughts. There, that’s my sole joke on the name Dick Pound. In 2005, a world renowned anti-doping specialist and Judge Dredd-like anti-doping specialist Dick Pound made the bold accusation that 33% – thirty-three fucking percent!! – of NHL players at the time were doped to shit. These problems were addressed so brilliantly by the NHL that the issue was raised again in 2011.

Which is of course why Canadians didn’t celebrate the run of the 2011 Vancouver Canucks, opting instead to riot about the questionable anti-doping policies of the NHL and their threat to the integrity of hockey and, by extension question the “sterling reputation” cakers love to brag about. It’s only worth caring about doping in sport when the world is looking, and it’s not like anyone else cares about North American hockeymans.

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That’s what they were rioting about, right?
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