Drug-use penalty for Berard not high

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:52 PM ET

The positive steroids test registered by Columbus Blue Jackets' Bryan Berard was not surprising, really.

Not to anti-drug czar Dick Pound, certainly. Not to those who have an understanding of the proclivities of professional and elite athletes.

What was surprising was Berard's admission of guilt and remorse for using a synthetic steroid known as 19-norandrosterone, one testers have been able to pick up easily in the last year. The modus operandi of athletes nailed in the past has been deny, deny, deny -- even with the smoking gun in their hand.

There also is the pleasant surprise that the testing program in hockey's new collective bargaining agreement will be undertaken by a top-flight laboratory.

"We just started this week," a source at the National Institute of Scientific Research said from Pointe Claire, Que., yesterday.

But none will be carried out in the off-season.

What has always troubled anti-doping forces is that laboratories retained by leagues might be a bit like those tobacco scientists or expert defence witnesses in court cases. They know who is paying them.

And that's the reason the 28-year-old defenceman was nailed. As a potential U.S. Olympian, Berard was tested in November by an unbiased United States Anti-Doping Agency lab in a random out-of-competition test.

That's out of international competition, not NHL competition, which raises an interesting dichotomy.

Here is a player who has been banned for two years from international competition, but won't miss a beat in league competition.

The league's program was not in force in November, otherwise Berard would face a 20-game suspension as a first offender. That runs to 60 games for a second offence and a life ban for a third one.

Speaking of November, it was then that World Anti-Doping Agency chairperson Pound said he suspected a third of NHL players are on some form of performance-enhancing substances, including steroids. The backlash against him was stridently predictable.

It now has been suggested the Berard case vindicates him. Not at all.

First, it's only one case and second, the veteran International Olympic Committee executive needs no vindication for anything.

Pound knows what he knows. There is, and has been, steroid use in the NHL. There is, and has been, wide use of performance-enhancing substances.

Quite apart from known cases, it strains credulity to suggest 700 pro athletes who play their game on ice are pure of heart and altogether different from ones who swing bats, make tackles, lift weights, run fast and throw heavy objects.

What's troubling about the NHL testing is that it will not be in force during the summer months. This will enable athletes who are able to carefully regulate use of steroids during a build-up process, then taper off like elite amateur athletes as the competition approaches, to slip through tests undetected.

Berard, at least, faced the music, unlike some in other sports who have indicated outrage at the suggestion they cheated up to, and even after, they were caught red-handed.

"I have spoken with Bryan and he expressed great remorse," players association president Ted Saskin said in a statement.

Both Saskin and NHL counsel Bill Daly stressed Berard is the only NHLer to test positive. Some, such as the late John Kordic, Dave Morrisette and Andrew Peters, admitted using steroids.

It's not a new issue. More than one NHLer was convinced -- before coming into the NHL -- that Russian players they'd played against were on steroids.

As for Pound, he was on vacation and unavailable yesterday. It's not likely he'd say "I told you so."

He already did that.


Videos

Photos