Kusnetsov and cocaine: Questions arise of consistent responsibility

Written By Taylor Spirito, For The Globe

In the world of sports, testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs is a pretty black and white concept.  If it’s found in an athlete’s system, action is taken both in the league and in the community. That player is normally suspended and shamed while begging for forgiveness from all.  It’s a situation that is taken pretty seriously, especially more recently.

The case of Evgeny Kuznetsov is one that’s completely in a gray area.  He tested positive for cocaine in the past few weeks and was subsequently banned from playing for his home country of Russia in the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) for four years.  However, Kuznetsov plays for the Washington Capitals and ultimately for the National Hockey League, which has turned a blind eye to his positive drug test and is allowing him to continue playing for the nation’s capital.

This isn’t the first time a cocaine-using athlete has been severely punished for their actions, as the drug does appear on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WAPA) Prohibited Substances list (section S6.a on stimulants, to be precise).  British tennis player Dan Evans was banned from playing for a year after he tested positive for cocaine, and Castleford rugby league player Zak Hardaker was banned for 14 months.

The NHL treats its drug tests a little differently. Instead of banning positive-testing athletes from playing, the league and the player’s teams seek help from the team doctor and other medical professionals so that the player has access to as many resources as possible to turn everything around.  It’s like a redemption arc, and suddenly the player’s substance abuse is a distant memory as they continue to play on the national stage.

The thing about Kuznetsov is that the allegations involving his drug use surfaced around May of this past year, where videos were found of the Russian near a white powdery substance.  These videos picked up so much traction on social media that the NHL, Capitals, and Kuznetsov himself addressed them in formal statement. Kuznetsov said, “While I have never taken illegal drugs in my life and career, I would like to publicly apologize to the Capitals, my teammates, our fans and everyone else, for putting myself in a bad situation. This was a hard lesson for me to learn,” (NHL.com). It’s no coincidence that in August, he tested positive for cocaine.

Obviously, he knew that he did something he wasn’t supposed to, and he was punished by the IIHF.  The NHL, despite following WADA’s Prohibited Substances List for “both in-competition and out-of-competition testing” has done nothing but support Kuznetsov in receiving help as he voluntarily sought professional assistance to treat his drug problem.

While this is highly compassionate of the NHL and truly showcases how much of a class act the league and its players are (mostly), letting Kuznetsov’s actions go unpunished despite the written rule sets a dangerous standard for other players in the league. Cocaine is a drug that has horrible effects on an individual and their community, so letting this slide is setting an example for other athletes, especially in the NHL, that the league is willing to disregard what it stands for on paper.

The NHL needs to put its foot down and not have double standards when it comes to its rules and regulations, especially over something this serious.  Tiptoeing around this issue is not going to produce the results that will better the league and its players now, or in the future. Gary Bettman needs to hold everyone involved accountable, and stop the hypocrisy that’s currently being implemented.