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Laraque's allegations not so easily dismissed

By Dan Di Sciullo
NHL Editor


Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Not even retirement can keep Georges Laraque from getting under the skin of NHL players.

The former enforcer has been making waves recently as excerpts from his yet-to-released book continue to trickle out to the public.

Some of the excerpts tell us things that many fans already believe, like Wayne Gretzky was a bad coach, but getting the most attention are Laraque's accusations that steroid use is rampant in the NHL.

Laraque claims in his book "The Story of the NHL's Unlikeliest Tough Guy" that the use of performance enhancing drugs was not contained to just enforcers like himself, but also extended to offensive stars as well.

"I have to say here that tough guys weren't the only players using steroids in the NHL," Laraque writes in the book. "It was true that quite a lot of them did use this drug, but other, more talented players did too. Most of us knew who they were, but not a single player, not even me, would ever think of raising his hand to break the silence and accuse a fellow player."

Apparently still wary of the league's code of silence, Laraque doesn't name names in the book. Instead, he gives readers examples of how they can look back at stats and figure out who was juicing by watching for drop-offs in production during Olympic years, when many of the NHL's elite would be subjected to strict testing.

Georges Laraque claims in his book that the use of performance enhancing drugs was not contained to just enforcers, but also extended to offensive stars as well.
It seems far-fetched that a flimsy formula like that would work, but focusing on who did what is not important at this stage anyway. For now, the focus should be on whether Laraque is telling the truth about witnessing widespread PED use, if he is just an opportunist trying to sell some books, or if he's doing a little bit of both.

As the sports world learned when Jose Canseco dropped bombshells about steroid use in baseball in his book "Juiced," sometimes ex-players are not making up lies to hawk their tomes, but instead, they're telling shocking truths to push the product. Canseco's claim that 85-percent of MLBers used PEDs could be an over-estimation, but he wound up hitting the mark on many of his accusations, including allegations against specific players like Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro.

Like Canseco, Laraque is known as an outspoken guy who is often speaking just to hear himself talk. That may make them egomaniacs, but it doesn't necessarily mean they are liars. Instead they take their cues from Charles Barkley, the former NBA star who speaks honestly even when, or especially when, he knows people will be shocked by what he has to say.

Not at all surprising, Laraque is getting the same kind of treatment from current and former NHL players that Canseco once received from the baseball community.

Laraque is being called an opportunist and a sensationalist as players do their best to discredit what he has to say. The critics make some good points too, like why did Laraque wait so long to reveal his beliefs about steroid use in the NHL? In his defense, Laraque claims to have reported what he saw to the league in the late 1990s, but that his accusations fell on deaf ears.

But, one person who isn't dismissing Laraque's allegations is Dick Pound, the Canadian lawyer and former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Pound has long been critical of the NHL's drug testing policy and once said that he "discovered what it's like to take on organized religion in this country" while trying to get to the bottom of the steroid problem in hockey.

Pound said that the only thing surprising about Laraque's comments on PEDs in the NHL is that he actually had the courage to come out and say it. The fact that Laraque has so far received no real support from former or current NHL players regarding the steroid allegations makes me think that Pound is right.

In a way, the rush to silence Laraque has almost been too swift and the folks doing the shushing are way too emotional about something that is supposedly ridiculous. As William Shakespeare's Queen Gertrude would say, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

The bottom line is that the NHL does have an extremely weak drug testing policy, one that doesn't test players in the offseason or even in the playoffs.

This is an era where athletes circumvent even the most draconian drug testing policies (like the ones Pound used to suggest while serving as the head of WADA). Are we really supposed to believe that for some reason hockey players refrain from PED use despite the fact that the NHL's lax laws are almost begging them to use steroids for months at a time?

Players and fans are understandably defensive of the sports they love, but to think that hockey is somehow special and unaffected by something that has tainted the rest of the sports world -- both amateur and professional -- is just silly.

You may not like what Laraque is saying or the way he is saying it, but don't just dismiss him out of hand for those reasons alone.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.

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