By now, most everyone has heard about the allegations leveled against members of the Washington Capitals organization by Douglas Nagel, a chiropractor who is charged with selling performance enhancing drugs. Nagel has an office next to the Capitals’ practice facility, and the team has acknowledged that some of their players had chiropractic work done at his office. Law enforcement confirms that Nagel had clients who were NHL players.
Before I get into the specifics of this instance, I should acknowledge that I believe both steroids and other substances are used by at least a few NHL players. The use of stimulants is widespread and has been acknowledged by many, and there have been whispers that NHL players have used other substances as well. Former cup-of-coffee NHL tough guy Dave Morissette admitted that he used steroids, and although he declined to name other players he said that the use of steroids is common. Those thoughts aren’t confined to Morissette, as other players have acknowledged they believe it is an issue, although there isn’t a consensus that it’s a problem in the NHL.
The NHL’s rather lax drug testing policy has caught one player, Sean Hill, who was suspended 20 games in the spring of 2007 for violating the league’s performance enhancing substances policy. Even that case should be marked with an asterisk; Hill has maintained his innocence, and in an attempt to clear his name had another test performed by an independent lab and undergone a polygraph test – both of which he passed. More notable than Hill was Bryan Berard, who was caught by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency rather than the NHL, and thus faced no NHL sanctions for taking a banned substance. Berard admitted his guilt, calling it a “mistake” and vowing never to use such substances again.
Put another way, the allegations in this story are not shocking. NHL players are normal human beings, and thus as prone to the same moral failings as other human beings, and they’re all competitive men trying to carve out a niche in the world’s toughest league. It would not be surprising to find some using performance enhancing drugs; it would be more surprising if none were.
That said, while this is a newsworthy story, and an area which is in my opinion underreported on, it would be wrong to come to any conclusions at this point about either the Capitals as an organization or the players as individuals. No charges have been laid, and aside from statements made by a man facing a prison sentence (statements which contradict earlier statements by the same man) and some circumstantial evidence, there is no reason to think any differently about the team or its players.
That may change if more evidence is revealed. But for the time being, there simply isn’t enough evidence to form any conclusions.