There were a couple of stories in the newspapers last week about a fellow named Garrett Burnett, who played briefly in the NHL in 2003-04, appearing 39 times for the Ducks and accumulating a goal, a pair of assists and an astonishing 184 PIM. I’m not much of a goon aficionado so Burnett kind of escaped my attention when he played. The stories arose out of a piece of litigation involving Burnett after he was beaten up in a bar. The CTV.ca story on the matter contained a line referencing Burnett’s lawyer acknowledging his past steroid use but it seems to have been the only entity to mention the steroids angle.
The reasons for the decision are online and contain some pretty amazing stuff:
 Mr. Burnett…denied ever using anabolic steroids, but said he used supplements that would parallel the kind of benefit he would get from steroids, but “without breaking the law”. He would get the supplements from supplement stores in the U.S. and Canada.
 Mr. Burnett saw a Dr. Lee in California, where he was prescribed several medications including testosterone, but testified it had to do with his own sexual heath, not to counteract the effects of steroids. He never failed any tests for the use of steroids or other drugs during his hockey career…
 In cross-examination, Mr. Burnett was probed about the use of “enhancements” for his hockey career. Although he maintained that he only used supplements that mimic the effects of anabolic steroids and his use of testosterone and other drugs had nothing to do with off-setting the effects of actual steroid use, I am satisfied on all the evidence including his examination for discovery on the balance of probabilities that the plaintiff did indeed use steroids to enhance his performance as a professional athlete. Indeed, in argument, his counsel fairly conceded that likelihood and attributed the plaintiff’s reticence to admit it to the effect of his head injury and accompanying diminished judgment.
 Dr. Kennedy reviewed the clinical records of Dr. Lester Lee who prescribed various medications to [Mr. Burnett] in California. In his report of January 10, 2011, Dr. Kennedy detailed his review of Dr. Lee’s notes as follows:
Opinion: Anabolic steroid use has many and varied long term toxic effects. The likelihood of both short and long term toxic effects is greatly increased with the use of multiple steroid drugs at the same time in various patterns. A common pattern is 1 to 3 times weekly injections, in 4 to 12 week cycles. Dr. Lester Lee’s notes from January 2004 to June 2006 describe such a coincident multiplicity of steroid drug use by Mr. Burnett over this time. He already has toxic effects of previous anabolic steroid use when he sees Dr. Lee in January, 2004: hypogonadism (long term effect), low HDL cholesterol (increased cardiac risk), and mild liver damage (short term effect). Over this time, Dr. Lee further prescribes both oil-based and injectible steroids, and other oral agents. These drugs include human Growth Hormone (GH) for muscle bulk and strength, human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) and Clomid to stimulate testosterone production, and Tamoxifen to block the effects of steroid-induced estrogen (gynecomastia). He has this tender breast enlargement toxic effect of steroid use during the time that he saw Dr. Lee. Also during this time he had a thigh abscess, secondary to oil-based steroid injection, another acute side effect. Dr. Lee also prescribed Zoloft, an anti depressant, implying that Dr. Lee has diagnosed a mood disorder.
Georges Laraque is in the news right now with his allegations about drug use in the NHL. While I find Georges to be a bit of a questionable witness (and was greatly entertained by Jeff Blair painting him as very credible, given his past comments about Laraque), reading this decision makes me wonder. I don’t like the way that Laraque has gone about accusing people – by not naming names but instead describing ways to identify steroid users, he invites people to speculate wildly about who was using, something that isn’t really fair to players who weren’t using but might fit Georges’ criteria of having an off year during Olympic years.
I’m ambivalent about steroids as a moral issue but if the question is how credible the denials of a problem with steroids are, when you’ve got a doctor giving evidence that a 29 year old guy has “toxic effects of previous anabolic steroid use…in January of 2004″ and a judge finding that a player used steroids to enhance his performance as a professional athlete, it seems to me to certainly raise some questions. Dick Pound has raised what seem to me to be reasonable objections to the NHL’s drug testing regimen and suggested that it has a variety of holes.
If steroids are a big moral issue in sport, how much evidence do we need to decide that what the NHL is doing is insufficient? You’re unlikely to ever have a smoking gun in a case like this – players and the NHL have an incentive to keep failed tests quiet. Instead what you get are cases like the one discussed above, with a snippet of evidence, or someone like Laraque making some loose allegations. I don’t really know what the answer is but, given the holes in the NHL’s policy and the evidence that the incentives are such that people used before, I don’t know why you’d think that NHL hockey is clean now.