SUN Hockey Pool

Bettman's blinkers in place

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:29 AM ET

No man is as deaf as the man who will not hear.

Gary (Hear No Evil) Bettman brought his Pollyanna version of the NHL to Washington yesterday as he joined the other heads of North American pro sports to explain their war on performance-enhancing drugs.

It was easy to spot Bettman, he was the guy with the halo.

Bettman told the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection that hockey is an island unto itself, that performance-enhancing drugs aren't an issue and that -- with a splendid record of having just one player suspended for steroid usage since the lockout of 2005 -- it is doing a swell job of policing itself.

The committee might ask: Which police? And, are they grads of Janet Gretzky's Police Academy?

The commissioners and players' union leaders of Major League Baseball, the NBA, NFL and NHL sat at a wooden witness table yesterday, once again hauled up to Capitol Hill by lawmakers who are revisiting the possibility of making drug testing and policing a federal jurisdiction.

"The many years that NHL players have been tested in international competition, as well as recent testing under our program, suggests that performance-enhancing drugs had never been part of the culture of the NHL and that instances of use by our players have been extremely rare," Bettman told the House subcommittee.

What Bettman wasn't telling anyone is that the NHL's own policy has more holes than the Maple Leafs lineup.

The plan is not comprehensive. It doesn't test for several stimulants and the NHL is ignoring Stephane Quintal, who played 17 NHL seasons and revealed that, as far back as 2005, "40% of players used stimulants" and that many enforcers were taking steroids. The subcommittee might ask why former NHLer Andrei Nazarov has said the same thing. Quintal said what many knew -- that players chased down tablets of pseudoephedrine with copious amounts of coffee to stimulate aggressiveness.

But in the Bettman world, there are no such things as Ripped Fuel, a caffeine-ephedrine mix outed by former Capitals draft pick Dave Morrisette, or Red Bull cocktails. Not sure if the same can be said for pure bull.

Bettman has opposed legislation, initially proposed by the subcommittee in 2005, to bring its drug policy in line with the Olympics. He says current sanctions -- a 20-game suspension for a first positive test, 60 for a second and permanent ban for a third violation -- are effective.

Gary Player says he knows of golfers who used steroids. It is part of the NFL culture and baseball has seen its image shredded by it. Yet Bettman pretends the NHL is immune, saying: "We shouldn't all be painted with the same broad brush. Every sport is different. What goes on in one sport does not go on in every sport."

Sports may be different. People aren't. His suggestion that hockey players don't use steroids because they don't need muscle mass smacks of being disingenuous.

It seems as ridiculous as the NHL drug-testing plan itself.

It does not allow testing during playoffs when the schedule and travel would make steroids, with their recuperative powers, and stimulants use most likely. Similarly, there is no off-season testing, precisely when human growth hormone and steroids would be used for training and to build muscle.

Bryan Berard got nailed with a two-year international suspension when he tested positive for norandrosterone -- but not thanks to the NHL drug program. He got caught because his name was submitted by USA Hockey as a potential Olympic participant to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Berard apologized for "embarrassing" his sport.

Bettman doesn't know the meaning of the word and, so, the NHL continues to wander in its own Wonderland where if Bettman and Co., can see no evil, then none must exist.

Some subcommittee members are proposing a bill that calls for a two-year suspension for a first offence and a lifetime ban for a second.

"I am not convinced that an effective solution to this problem can be found in a system that allows those with a vested interest in the performance of the players and leagues to simply police themselves," said former committee chairman Cliff Stearns.

Just don't tell that to Bettman who, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, has it all under control.


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