NFL, not just Ray Lewis, needs to answer supplement questions

NEW ORLEANS – Two years ago, Yahoo! Sports reported on the NFL's directive to league personnel to cut ties with a supplement-maker that claimed to have provided Ray Lewis and other NFL coaches and players with a product touted to include a banned substance.

"We recently sent letters to players who may have had an affiliation with the company which is now claiming its products include a banned substance," wrote NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy in an email to Yahoo! Sports' in 2011. "We are investigating the matter, as we have been for awhile now."

Tuesday, after a Sports Illustrated story reported Lewis' continued ties to Sports With Alternatives To Steroids (S.W.A.T.S.), Yahoo! Sports asked the NFL for an update on its investigation.

"We have no update at this time," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an email.

When asked about the report during Tuesday's Media Day for Super Bowl XLVII, Lewis was blunt.

"Two years ago it was the same report," the Baltimore Ravens linebacker said. "I wouldn't give that report or any of him any of my press."

Apparently not a lot has changed over the last two years.

Lewis' relationship with S.W.A.T.S., the makers of a deer antler supplement called The Ultimate Spray which is alleged to contain a banned substance called IGF-1, goes back nearly five years. S.W.A.T.S. founder Mitch Ross says he met Lewis at a team hotel in Miami in 2008. Soon thereafter, Ross tells Yahoo! Sports, he was sending Ravens coach Hue Jackson S.W.A.T.S products. A direct relationship with Lewis developed from there.

During a 2010 interview in his Birmingham, Ala. office, Ross produced more than a half-dozen text messages he said were from Lewis sent over the previous two years acknowledging receipt of S.W.A.T.S. products and providing Ross with two addresses for shipment. Ross estimated he had sent 25 bottles of The Ultimate Spray to Lewis over the prior two years, with each bottle providing a two-month supply.

[Dan Wetzel: Atlanta deaths still weigh on Ray Lewis]

A text message on Ross' phone, dated Aug. 30 2010, was sent to a number registered to Lewis, and asked, "You get the … spray?" A message received moments later from the number said, "Yes." A text message from Ross to the phone registered to Lewis at 8:05 a.m. on Nov. 2, 2009 asked, "You need more spray?" A reply from Lewis' phone, received one minute later, read, "Yes my man, always." Another text from Lewis' phone read, "Yes, send me all the stuff."

Ross says one of his S.W.A.T.S. associates visited Lewis' house last year to help him heal his injured toe. Yahoo! Sports obtained a check Ross alleges Lewis wrote to S.W.A.T.S. for $705. It's dated November 23, 2011. On the memo line, "Medical" is written.

"He used everything last year for his toe," Ross told Yahoo! Sports by phone Tuesday.

In January of 2011, the NFL ordered Jackson (then with the Oakland Raiders) to sever ties with S.W.A.T.S. Shortly thereafter, the league sent a note to several players ordering them to cut ties with S.W.A.T.S.

"The fact that the company is claiming that its product contains a banned substance is enough to preclude players from associating with the company," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy wrote in a 2011 email.

Yet more questions about Lewis' use of The Ultimate Spray resurfaced Tuesday in the wake of the Sports Illustrated report linking S.W.A.T.S. to the Ravens' linebacker during the course of his rehab from a torn triceps muscle this season. The report includes a transcript of a conversation provided by Ross in which Lewis asks for help immediately after sustaining the injury in October.

"Just pile me up and just send me everything you got, because I got to get back on this this week," Lewis reportedly told Ross.

The reaction to the Sports Illustrated story was immediate and pointed, with the headlines screaming that Lewis had used a banned substance. That isn't necessarily true.

The testing lab for the NFL, NSF International, said in 2011 that it had not been asked to test the S.W.A.T.S. spray for IGF-1. (An email to NSF International on Tuesday was not immediately returned.)

"Despite the company's claims, it is not clear at all that the product actually contains IGF-1," McCarthy wrote to Yahoo! Sports in 2011.

And even if there was confirmation of IGF-1 in the S.W.A.T.S. spray – and Ross has provided Yahoo! Sports with positive results from labs he hired to test for the hormone – it's difficult to test for and there's no proof that Lewis ingested the spray. For that, the league would need a positive blood test, which has not yet been implemented under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

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"Without the blood test, there would be no conclusive evidence," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told Yahoo! Sports in 2011. "But we'd like to test for it. If we could establish a player was using IGF-1 through whatever means, that player would be subject to suspension. Same with growth hormone."

Asked if the NFL would test the S.W.A.T.S. spray to determine whether it contains IGF-1, Aiello told Yahoo! Sports, "We're not going to discuss what plans we may or may not have."

Two years later, the NFL is still not discussing its plans for testing S.W.A.T.S. products. And two years later, Ray Lewis is at the center of another S.W.A.T.S.-related controversy.

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