The National Hockey League threw the book and a few bags of pucks down on Matt Cooke, the Pittsburgh Penguin's lowlife forward who delivered a blatant and vicious elbow to the jaw of the Rangers' Ryan McDonough even as the issue of such head shots in the sport is the current subject of intense and highly publicized discussion. It was just last week that the subject was the major topic of discussion at the general managers' meeting (even as they stopped short of a total ban on hits to the head. For now, anyway.)
Citing Cooke's record as a frequent attendee at these disciplinary hearings, the league suspended him for the remaining ten games of the season, plus the first round of the playoffs (anywhere from four to seven additional games). The hit was so egregious that even the Penguins came out strongly in support of the ban. (They were also no doubt annoyed that the incident shifted the momentum of the game and helped propel the surging Broadway Blueshirts to their 4th straight win as they aspire to the postseason.)
It's just unimaginable that even an idiot like Cooke could be so careless and callous at a time when there is such attention on the issue, especially in light of a recent damaging front page article in the New York Times, and a particularly ugly (though apparently accidental) incident involving the Bruins' Zdeno Chara a couple of weeks ago which resulted in a significant spinal injury to the Canadians' Max Pacioretty (though, controversially, no suspension for Chara).
Similarly, in racing, it takes a real buffoon to repeatedly get caught with illegal medication and paraphernalia during a time when the subject of illegal medication, if not exactly at the level of a clamor, has at least been somewhat in focus, though not nearly as much as one might expect. Enter serial offender Richard Dutrow, who was again caught cheating, this time right around Breeders' Cup time last fall, just when the sport was getting some national attention, and as Joe Drape was once again shining his usual spotlight of the negative aspects of the sport at the most appropriate time. Hypodermic needles were found during a search of Dutrow's barn on Nov 3, while he was at Churchill for the Cup races; and a horse of his tested positive for an illegal substance on Nov 20. Dutrow was handed a total suspension of 90 days for the two infractions by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board.
However, the comparison between the two situations more or less ends somewhere in the two abovementioned men's empty heads. For one thing, and as has been painfully obvious for quite some time, racing has no central league office to which Dutrow can be summoned for discipline. There are no meetings of the tracks' general managers to debate and discuss what regulations can be implemented unilaterally. Despite the efforts of the well-meaning Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, an excerpt from their FAQ page reads as follows:
Question: How many states have adopted your model rule on uniform penalties?The only recent quasi-national effort on drugs I can recall was the one a couple of years ago to ban steroids, which seemed at the time like a cosmetic and PC step intended to give the impression something was being done. Looking back and considering the continuing parade of prominent trainer suspensions since then, it seems even more irrelevant now.
Dr. Waterman: Actually, it is inaccurate to say “adopted” since that implies by rule. Approximately 20 states are using our penalty language, the majority as simply a policy guideline.
Indeed, the New York board now finds itself under pressure to do the national industry's bidding for it and ban him permanently.
Perhaps even more significantly, while there may be a more heightened awareness of the issue of illegal medication due to the proliferation of dedicated racing bloggers and the efforts of writers like Drape, I don't exactly sense much urgency about the issue. The NTRA seems to have been focused on other things with their task forces - a Google search turned up one on this issue only as recently as 2001.
And really, illegal medication doesn't really seem to be something that racing fans seem to much care about anyway, so maybe the industry is correct to focus on other matters. The only sustained outcry I've heard lately from horseplayers is the one that led to the silly and self-serving boycott of races at Santa Anita over a relatively innocuous increase in the takeout in certain exotic bets. I don't see any recent posts on the subject on the HANA blog, where they (and their ringleader Bill Finley) seem far more invigorated about takeout reductions at Hastings Park than the prospect of a meaningful ban of Dutrow (about which I don't see a single post).
The best the industry seems to be able to do at this point is a statement from the COO of The Jockey Club to "encourage all state racing commissions to evaluate the continued licensing of any individual who has been adjudicated to have violated the established drug rules of their jurisdictions on multiple occasions,” and the abovelinkedto appeal by another well-meaning but toothless organization - Racing Commissioners International - for New York to take drastic action. Those hearings, at which time Dutrow will appeal his suspension altogether, will take place in ten days time. No opinion here as to whether he should indeed have his license revoked. However, it would surely seem appropriate if he receives more than just the usual routine trip to the penalty box this time.