By Eric Warren
In a story that has received surprisingly little press, the Washington Capitals and the NHL may find themselves once again at the center of a drug controversy.
Some of you may recall the original story from last May when former body builder Richard Thomas was arrested for possession of a banned substance. The Polk County Sherriffs' Department seized more than $200,000 worth of illegal drugs and paraphernalia from Thomas' home.
Before Polk County Sherriff Grady Judd went public with the arrest, he questioned Thomas on the subject of his clientele to which he replied, "You name the sport, and I've sold steroids to athletes who play it,"pointing to both the Washington Nationals of the MLB and the Capitals of the NHL.
To it's credit, Major League Baseball learned of Thomas's claims, security representatives immediately called law enforcement authorities in Florida in an effort to remain transperant and to offer cooperation. They also launched an internal investigation. MLB, which Judd praised for its cooperation, refused comment on its investigation. The NFL was in contact too, though Thomas had not mentioned any football teams or players. Neither the Capitals nor the NHL called, but they publicly promised internal investigations.
Due to recent developments the NHL has reason to be especially interested. Last month detectives from the Polk County Sheriff's Tactical Drug Unit, working with the U.S. marshal's office, arrested on of Thomas' clients, a Virginia chiropractor named Douglas Nagel.
Investigation had shown that Nagel had treated Capitals players and currently keeps an office in a mall adjacent to the team's practice facility.
Last September, Nagel did in fact admit that he was a client of Thomas's and that he had mailed money for steroids, including testosterone and nandrolone.
Nagel, is currently facing charges related to steroid distribution also told investigators that he had treated Capitals players referred to him by that team's athletic trainer Greg Smith, whom detectives interviewed in September 2009 and again on March 23.
The day of Nagel's arrest NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly issued the following statement: "Based on the investigation we have done and the information we have, there is no evidence that Dr. Nagel ever supplied (or even offered to supply) performance enhancing drugs to any current or past member of the Washington Capitals.
The Capitals issued a statement as well: "This has been a thorough investigation, and we are satisfied that law enforcement, the NHL and our own internal investigation have not led to any link of steroid use by Capitals players," but according to an April 7 e-mail from Ian Floyd of the Polk County Sheriff's Tactical Drug Unit to Judd (his boss), there are serious questions about the investigations conducted by the NHL and the Capitals.
"I called and spoke with NHL executive vice president of security Dennis Cunningham today in reference to the official statements made by the Washington Capitals and NHL regarding the 'thorough investigation,'" reads the e-mail, "Mr. Cunningham admitted that contrary to the below issued statements, an investigation was never conducted into Dr. Nagel," which would seem to leave the door wide open for speculation of his supplying players with steroids and other illegal substances.
This type of sand bagging isn't much of a surprise given the NHL's refusal to keep pace with other major sports leagues when it comes to drug testing.
Unlike MLB or the NFL, the NHL does not test during the off-season, nor once the playoffs have started. Polk County officials noted that of the 10 FedEx and U.S. Postal Service labels for packages mailed in 2008 and 2009 between Thomas and Nagel that law enforcement officials obtained in their investigation, eight of the ten where dated during the period when the Capitals were either in the playoffs or out of season, and one was dated the day before the end of the 2007-08 season.
According to Floyd's e-mail, when he asked the Capitals about their investigation, a team official also told him that none had been undertaken. "During a conversation I had with [Capitals assistant general manager and director of legal affairs] Don Fishman," the e-mail reads, "he advised that no investigation had been conducted by the Capitals into Dr. Nagel's potential involvement with steroids and Capitals players. Mr. Fishman advised that any investigation would have been conducted by Dennis Cunningham from the NHL's security office."
While all of this may turn out to be little more than baseless fodder, it does beg the question of the commitment level of the NHL when it comes to drug testing.
The issue of steroids has long been mostly a question of morals, and without opening a completely different can of worms here I'd like to go on record as saying that if the NHL is secretly endorsing their use by simply choosing to sweep potential problems under the rug as it appears they may be trying to do, I for one am appalled, not surprised, but appalled.
Perhaps it's time for Gary Bettman to step down.