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Deer antler spray gets a pass, so now what?

Eric Adelson
Yahoo Sports

Oh deer.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the forest, there's breaking news in the deer antler spray saga that began more than two years ago and reached a fever pitch at this year's Super Bowl.

This week, the World Anti-Doping Authority, which provides the list of banned substances that most sports leagues follow, announced that deer antler spray is not in violation of its rules. Deer antler spray, you may remember, was at the center of a media frenzy that engulfed Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis in the week leading up to Super Bowl XLVII. Sparked by a Sports Illustrated story published during Super Bowl week, Lewis found himself at the center of a "controversy" for allegedly using a product that contained a banned growth hormone, IGF-1.

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Mitch Ross speaks about The Ultimate Spray at Super Bowl XLVII. (Getty Images)

But after determining that "The Ultimate Spray," the deer-antler product Lewis allegedly took, contains only "small amounts" of IGF-1, WADA announced it is not considered prohibited.

The athlete immediately impacted by the determination is golfer Vijay Singh, who had been sanctioned by the PGA Tour after he admitted using the spray in the same Sports Illustrated story. Upon WADA's determination, the PGA retracted its punishment of Singh.

"We're talking about a determination that was made by scientists at WADA that relate to the consumption through deer antler spray of a technically violative substance, IGF -1," PGA commissioner Tim Finchem explained this week. "But in looking at it, the scientists concluded it resulted in infinitesimal amounts actually being taken into the recipient's body."

The bigger question in the wake of WADA's decision is what this means for athletes and use of the spray going forward.

Yes, they can use it in the sense that WADA no longer prohibits it, and those athletes who feel it helps them can proceed. (An unnamed pro golfer told Jason Sobel of The Golf Channel, "I'm going on it as soon as I get home.")

But there remains a risk in that WADA still has IGF-1 on its banned list.

An email to WADA was not immediately returned, however Gary Wadler, former chair of the committee that determines WADA's banned list, told Yahoo! Sports, "Growth factors are a very significant issue in performance enhancement."

So it's sprayer beware. Use of "The Ultimate Spray," a product sold by a former bodybuilder named Mitch Ross, will likely not trigger a positive test, though use of IGF-1 is still not permissible. Much like speeding on the highway, IGF-1 is not permitted … but you can probably get away with it to a point.

"We ban and test for substances, not products," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an email to Yahoo! Sports. "IGF-1 is on our banned substance list; same as it is on WADAs."

Confusing? Definitely.

The bottom line, though, is that more athletes will likely take their chances with the spray, even though it's still not clear how well it works, or even if it works at all. Athletes are always looking for an edge of any sort, and here's one WADA has cleared. The hard truth is that even if the spray was loaded with IGF-1, there's no widely accepted urine test for it anyway.

"There is only a blood test for IGF-1" Aiello said, "and the [player's] union has refused for two years to begin testing for growth hormone as it agreed to do in the new CBA."

And here's the major problem with both IGF-1 and HGH: We still don't know who's using because we still don't have blood testing in pro leagues like the NFL. On Tuesday, Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted an anonymous NFL player who said HGH use in the NFL is "like clockwork."

"Not tested and it's easy to get," the player said. "Nowadays, dude? In 2013? (Expletive] yeah. I'm just being real."

Ross has always dreamed of finding an alternative to steroids (hence the name of his company: Sports With Alternatives To Steroids, a.k.a. SWATS). When his spray became the focal point of a controversy leading up to Super Bowl XLVII, Ross flew to New Orleans to hold an impromptu press conference to "clear the air." Now he feels the WADA decision has lifted a cloud that's enshrouded him since the Sports Illustrated story came out and Lewis distanced himself from SWATS in the days thereafter.

On Wednesday, Ross said he felt "vindicated." He also said he's working with two new clients: Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson. His website has videos of both boxing legends talking about the benefits of SWATS products, including the deer antler spray.

"If it didn't work," Ross said of his spray, "wouldn't it just go away?"

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