Addiction in Sport
Drug use in NHL players increasing
The NHL returned to play on August 1st with two hub cities – Edmonton and Toronto – hosting games leading to the Stanley Cup playoffs. The ice hockey league’s resumption has led hockey fans to celebrate some exciting action with games coming fast and furious. Hockey’s physical, fast play has made millions of fans around the globe. However, it is that same physical, fast play that has led some players to use drugs.
A history of drug and alcohol abuse
In 2015, NHL players made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Former Los Angeles Kings players Jarrett Stoll and Mike Richards were arrested in two unrelated cases for drug possession. In Richards’ case, he was arrested for possession of oxycodone at the Canadian border, the Kings simply terminated his contract rather than sending him to rehab in California to get the help he needed.
It isn’t just drug addiction that has swept the NHL. That same year, then-Minnesota Wild assistant coach Darryl Sydor was arrested for drunk driving after being pulled over. Sydor had three times the legal limit of alcohol in his body.
Jordin Tootoo was another NHL star to go into rehab. The defenseman’s alcohol problem was sorted thanks to The Canyon, one of the top centers for rehab in California. After attending rehab in California, Tootoo gained a three-year contract worth $5.7 million to continue his career in 2012.
In 2020, Bobby Ryan also found redemption after undergoing rehab. He scored a hat-trick upon his return for the Ottawa Senators following a three-month stint in rehab. Not all players in the NHL are a lucky as Tootoo and Ryan.
Cocaine: The hockey drug of choice
Drug and alcohol addiction have not ended amongst NHL players. In fact, according to an article from the Atlantic it is on the rise once more. Post-game partying is a near nightly occurrence. It is claimed that cocaine is the drugs of choice for the after-game parties. Another popular drug that is abused is Molly (MDMA).
Washington Capitals player Evgeny Kuznetsov is one player to be punished for his party lifestyle. The International Ice Hockey Federation suspended him for four years after testing positive for cocaine at the 2018 World Championships. Kuznetsov’s punishment was handed down by the IIHF rather than the NHL leading to criticism of the North American league’s drug policy.
There has been a call for the NHL to expand its substance abuse policy. According to sources, the NHL puts a lot of its focus on stopping players from using performance enhancing drugs but is very soft on drugs and alcohol.
A soft stance on drugs
Following Kuznetsov’s ban by the IIHF, the NHL released a statement stating, “cocaine is not considered a performance enhancing drug and is therefore not a Prohibited Substance under the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program”. The statement released by the NHL shows that cocaine isn’t seen as a dangerous drug to the league’s nor players’ well-being.
Cocaine has been a long-term issue for the hockey league. It seems that regardless of players going to rehab that cocaine is becoming a larger problem in the NHL.
For now, substance misuse remains a problem in hockey – along with other high-profile sports – with individuals who hit rock bottom often the ones seeking help. Specialist rehab in California such as Passages focus on helping athletes end their addiction issues. Tootoo and Ryan are two examples of players to seek out help to return to the ice and be better off for it.