The flood gates have opened ever since Sports Illustrated published a more than 5,000 word article Tuesday about the substances made by the two-man company S.W.A.T.S. (Sports with Alternatives to Steroids). The one getting the most attention is called deer antler spray.
Several specific athletes have been identified in the article as using S.W.A.T.S. substances, which has caused at least one to withdrawal from competition and others are coming out and admitting or denying its use.
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, the man of the hour given his upcoming participation in the Super Bowl that will be the end his 17-years in the NFL, was reported by Sports Illustrated to have spoken with S.W.A.T.S owner Mitch Ross following an accident that tore his tricep and benched him for much of the 2012 season. But Lewis has for the last couple days strongly denied accusations that he, or his teammates, used any sort of performance enhancing substance.
Ray Lewis has denied ever using deer antler spray. (Photo: AP/Matt Slocum)
Watch Lewis speak at a press conference about the accusations:
Sports Illustrated reported that when it spoke to Lewis for its story, he acknowledged asking Ross for "some more of the regular stuff" on the night of the injury and that he has been associated with the company "for a couple years."
Lewis' stance was different Wednesday.
"It's so funny of a story, because I never, ever took what he says or whatever I was supposed to do. And it's just sad, once again, that someone can have this much attention on a stage this big, where the dreams are really real," Lewis said, wearing his white No. 52 Ravens jersey, gray sweat pants and a black hat with the team's purple logo. "I don't need it. My teammates don't need it. The 49ers don't need it. Nobody needs it."
He smiled widely when the first question at his media session was about the topic - surely, he figured it was coming - then chuckled later while addressing it. Known for his frequent references to God and faith, Lewis called the whole episode a "joke" and a "trick of the devil," adding that he told teammates: "Don't let people from the outside ever come and try to disturb what's inside."
What is it?
So this all begs the question: What is "deer antler spray"?
S.W.A.T.S. says its deer antler spray and pills contain a naturally occurring banned product connected to human growth hormone.
The oral spray is described as "an all-natural product extracted from the velvet from the immature antlers of male deer," according to S.W.A.T.S. website. Among various purposes, the spray claims to stimulate growth, improve muscle endurance and enhance overall athletic performance.
The product specifically claims to contain insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which is medically used to treat a form of dwarfism called Laron syndrome. The Baltimore Sun reported doctor's questioning if the method of delivery of the S.W.A.T.S. product would even work:
Dr. Roberto Salvatori, who runs a lab studying growth hormone deficiency and has been on the Hopkins faculty since 1998, said there is no scientifically accepted way to deliver IGF-1 orally.
“If there were, a lot of people would be happy that they don’t need to get shots anymore,” he said. “It’s just simply not possible for it to come from a spray.”
But that's not all. In addition to the deer antler product containing IGF-1, which is banned by the NFL and many other major sports leagues, Sports Illustrated reported Rams linebacker linebacker David Vobora, who was using the spray, testing positive for methyltestosterone in 2009. The spray was then tested and found to contain the illegal substance. Vobora sued S.W.A.T.S. and was eventually awarded $5.4 million.
Here's a report about the product:
More athletes talk about deer antler spray
Since Sports Illustrated's article was published, athletes associated in some way with the spray have been releasing statements.
Three-time golf major champion Vijay Singh, released a statement Wednesday at the Phoenix Open, acknowledging he used deer-antler spray and saying he wasn't aware that it may contain a substance banned by the PGA Tour. Signh Thursday withdrew from the tournament as the PGA is investigating the matter.
"In fact, when I first received the product, I reviewed the list of ingredients and did not see any prohibited substances," Singh said, according to the Associated Press. "I am absolutely shocked that deer-antler spray may contain a banned substance and am angry that I have put myself in this position. I have been in contact with the PGA Tour and am cooperating fully with their review of this matter."
Former British Open winner Bob Charles of New Zealand too says he used and promoted a deer-antler spray for more than 20 years without knowing it contained banned substances.
Some college teams that have been associated with S.W.A.T.S. have responded as well. Alabama has sent two cease-and-desist letters to S.W.A.T.S., university spokeswoman Debbie Lane said, according to the AP, adding: "UA has been aware of this situation for some time, and we have monitored this company for several years." Auburn and LSU representatives also said they have asked the company to stay away from students.
As for what S.W.A.T.S. owners have to say about the article, especially its labeling of Lewis just before the the NFL Championship game Feb. 3, the Associated Press reported Ross saying in an emailed statement: "It is the view of SWATS and Mitch Ross that the timing of information was unfortunate and misleading and was in no way intended to harm any athlete. We have always been about aiding athletes to heal faster and participate at an optimum level of play in a lawful and healthy manner. We never encourage the use of harmful supplements and/or dangerous drugs."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.