Sports Illustrated's take on the Washington Capitals getting mixed up in a steroid scandal was refreshing because it was one of the first times we could recall the media puncturing the façade of pro sports' "internal affairs," lifting up the rug to see what's swept under it.
The latest news in this story involved the arrest of Douglas Nagel, a Virginia chiropractor who has treated Capitals players. Both the NHL and the team claimed there had been "no evidence that Dr. Nagel ever supplied (or even offered to supply) performance enhancing drugs to any current or past member of the Washington Capitals" based on the "thorough investigation" carried out to prove such a thing.
David Epstein of SI uncovered an email sent internally in the Polk County Sheriff's Tactical Drug Unit on April 7, in which NHL executive vice president of security Dennis Cunningham admitted that "no investigation was ever conducted into Dr. Nagel and his ties to steroids and Capitals players by anyone with the NHL."
The same email reported that Capitals assistant general manager and director of legal affairs Don Fishman told Ian Floyd of the Polk County Sheriff's office that the team hadn't conducted an investigation, but the NHL and Cunningham had ... which they hadn't. Capitals spokesman Kurt Kehl told SI that the team conducted a "brief investigation, but the more extensive investigation was led by the NHL and Dennis Cunningham." So not so thorough.
"Sources told me that the NHL started an investigation with Major League Baseball, which had a person who represented all the leagues involved. It was also being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Agency. A source said both the MLB investigator and the DEA were satisfied there was no steroid contact involving athletes."
So there was some investigation. Meanwhile, the SI piece did offer a bit of guilt-by-association reporting on Nagel's steroid distribution:
But unlike MLB or the NFL, the NHL does not test during the off-season, nor once the playoffs have started. (This week the Capitals are facing the Canadiens in an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.) Polk County officials noticed that of the 10 FedEx and U.S. Postal Service labels for packages mailed in 2008 and '09 between Thomas and Nagel that law enforcement officials obtained in their investigation, eight are dated during the period when the Capitals were either in the playoffs or out of season, and one was dated the day before the end of the 2007-08 season.
Now, none of this proves that Capitals players had any illegal dealings with Nagel; the next step in this will be when Nagel enters a plea. If anything, it reaffirms what many of us think when we hear about internal investigations of criminal or League matters: That they're so quick to get this stuff out of the headlines, the investigations are a hell of a lot less "thorough" then they let on. Or that the NHL just needs to communicate how they investigate these things with more clarity.