Is 20 Games’ Suspension Too Much? Performance Enhancing Drugs in the NHL

In the beginning of the 2018 NHL season, players from across all teams are asked to provide a steroid test for performance enhancement drugs. With this regulation, players must comply or they will automatically fail the test. If they fail the test, it can lead to serious suspension or ban from the league indefinitely.

Nate Schmitt, a defensemen of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, was utterly surprised when he was informed that he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in September 2018. In an issued statement he made later that day he said: “the amount of the performance enhancing drug was equal to seven billionths of a milligram”. The environmental doctor who testified on Schmitt’s behalf used the analogy that it would be the equivalent to dropping a grain of salt into an Olympic sized swimming pool, a quantity that would not have been enough to enhance Schmitt’s performance. From this sample that tested positive, as the NHL and NHLPA have an agreed zero drug tolerance policy, Schmitt was suspended for twenty games, or a quarter of the season. With this decision, Schmitt could not play any pre-season or regular season games until Nov 18th, while going this entire period of time without any pay. Some would say this is a harsh punishment for such an innocent crime, seeing as the environmental doctor came to Schmitt’s defence, saying: “he could not have prevented it from getting into his body” due to environmental factors.

While some may think the twenty game suspension is a bit too extensive, others believe it’s a mandatory sentence to reinforce these rules in the eyes of athletes and sport in general, with the primary intention of player protection and preserving a fair playing field. Research states that performance enhancing drugs places athletes’ health at risk and also does not establish a fair playing field for the game, as these drugs enable athletes to go beyond their natural capabilities.       

In society, nobody appreciates a cheater. We all like to assume that people achieve their success simply through hard work and fairness. An example of such success consists of Schmitt’s career high in points last year, allowing him to be a crucial part of the Golden Knights success. With society’s negative perceptions of cheating and performance enhancing drugs, when should we go back and revise the rules? How do we accommodate individuals like Schmitt who had no intention of cheating and were unaware of the illegal substances in their system? Hopefully, in the future, we can re-think some of these zero drug tolerance policies in the NHL, while simultaneously challenging how we as a society view performance enhancing substances in sports today.


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