NHL and WADA to Re-work Drug Testing Policy?

The following article was written by Cyle Kiger.

A focus in all major sports continues to be drug testing and the use of Human Growth Hormone (HGH).  Add the National Hockey League to the list in strengthening its own policy with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)The Chicago Tribune reported that the WADA has had conversations with the NHL and its players association about the topic.  WADA would like to have the framework for a new drug testing policy in place before the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Currently, it is thought that the NHL has the weakest anti-doping program of the four big leagues in the US.

NFL Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances – 2010

In general, the NFL prohibits the use of anabolic steroids, stimulants and growth agents.  Masking agents are considered a prohibited substance along with anabolic agents and hormones (a full list can be found on link above, p. 14).

The NFL has a pre-employment test, in which case a positive test will be subject to medical evaluation and clinical monitoring.  An annual test to all players for prohibited substances happens at least once per year.  The policy sets forth that testing shall occur at training camp when the player reports.  In the preseason and regular season setting, each week, 10 players from every team are randomly selected by computer to submit to a test without regard to how many past times the player has taken a test. Playoff teams are subjected to the same method as long as they are contending for the Super Bowl.  During the offseason, players under contract are subject to up to 6 tests.

A player with a previous positive test of a prohibited substance, including collegiate and combine tests, are subject to reasonable cause testing at the frequency of the Independent Administrator.

Disciplinary consequences do ensue after testing positive for a prohibited substance.  For a first time offense, the commissioner has the option to suspend the player for a minimum of four regular/post season games, unpaid.  A second time offender will be suspended for a minimum of 8 games without pay.   And the third time a player ends up with a positive test, he is suspended for a minimum of 12 months.  The players can appeal the Commissioner for reinstatement, but the matter is only in the Commissioner’s hands.

MLB Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program

The policy states that all players are prohibited from using, possessing, selling any drug or steroid.   Drugs in the Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act are considered prohibited by the MLB.

Procedure for league testing is only during season play and there is no random testing.  However, testing for the drugs of abuse or Schedule II drugs, is on a basis of reasonable cause.  For this instance, a member of the Health Policy Advisory Committee (HPAC) needs to have evidence that a player has used, possessed or sold drugs within the last 12 months.  If a majority vote is reached by the board, the player has 48 hours to take the test.

The MLB implemented a harsh policy for positive steroid test results, which needed to be done.  After a first positive test is a 50 game suspension.  A second positive test yields a 100 game suspension.  Lastly, a third positive test brings  a lifetime suspension to the player.

Use of prohibited substances are less strict but do carry consequences.  The first offense is a 15-30 day suspension with a possible fine of $10,000.  The second offense is 30-90 days with a possible fine of up to $50,000.  A third offense is a minimum one year suspension and possible fine of up to $100,000.  A fourth offense brings a minimum two year suspension.

NBA CBA 2011

The NBA’s recent Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits  many of the same things the MLB prohibits.  Schedule II drugs, steroids, masking agents and performance-enhancing drugs are the main drugs listed in the new CBA.

The NBA has implemented random testing in the CBA.  Players are subject to four random tests each season (Oct 1-Jun 30).  The NBA uses a third-party entity to test; this relieves the league of scheduling and selecting the players for testing.

They also have reasonable cause testing; if the NBA or NBPA receives information that provides them with cause to test a player, the player has 24 hours within notification to take the test. After authorization for testing, the player will be tested four times in six weeks.

A program that I think is outstanding that the NBA has implemented is the “Coming Forward Voluntarily” program.  It is described as when a player seeks out help for medical treatment and counseling, the team will take care of the expenses as long as the player takes the necessary steps (found on pg.11 of CBA) to do so.

The penalties for drugs of abuse states that during random testing or reasonable suspicion testing, a positive result will dismiss and disqualify the player from the NBA.  If a player tests positive for marijuana he will be submitted into the “Marijuana Program.”  After the first positive test result, players are subject to fines and suspensions of 5 games.  For performance-enhancing drugs, the increments in which suspensions are issued are 10 games, 25 games and 1 year suspension per positive result.  A fourth positive result will dismiss the player from the NBA as well.

NHL testing

Currently, the NHL tests every player between 0-3 times per year.  Tests only happen during the regular season.  I think that a major mistake that the NHL makes is that every player is eligible for testing, but not all of them get tested.

The NHL tests for steroids, hormones and basic doping tests.  The penalties inferred on the players are a 20-game suspension for the first positive result and a 60-game suspension for a second time.   Like the other leagues, lifetime bans are used by the NHL after a third positive test result.

From reports, I expect to see something done by the NHL and the WADA in conjunction with the other major sports leagues in the nation.  From the different types of policies, I think that the NFL has the best options to keep its league safe and under control.

My policy, in short, would look something like this:

  • Pre-employment testing to all incoming free-agents and rookies and a physical.
  • A similar random testing that the NFL has implemented, where each team has 3 players a week from their roster get tested at random a maximum of 3 times throughout the season.
  • Reasonable Suspicion testing that is very similar to the NBA.  In fact, all leagues should adopt their ‘Marijuana Program.’  Also Schedule II drugs would be prohibited and tested throughout the season.

Penalties:

The current NHL penalties are on point considering the length of a season.  Though the other option would be to move the lifetime suspension to the fourth positive result, and the third offense would be a season suspension.

The NHL surely has some catching up to do to their competition.  Hopefully within the next few months, with the help of WADA, they’ll re-draft a drug testing policy and get with the times.  For issues such as drug testing, the big 4 sport leagues in America should pull ideas from each other because each has their own unique issues and ways to settle them.  For example, the “Coming Forward Program” in the NBA could have saved a life, case in point, Derek Boogaard.

3 Comments on NHL and WADA to Re-work Drug Testing Policy?

  1. This is the first time I’ve heard the NHL involved in a discussion like this. It will be interesting to see how they respond to this sort of spotlight.

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