Ray Lewis is a cheater. So implies a Sports Illustrated story released Tuesday, five days before Lewis ends his career on the stage of Super Bowl XLVII. The legendary linebacker vehemently denies allegations that he used a substance banned by the NFL to recover more quickly from a triceps tear that was expected to sideline him for the season. Lost amidst the media frenzy, however, is the fact that the substance he is accused of taking would not have had any impact on his recovery or his body in general. So, while the intrepid investigative reporting staff of SI can be applauded for exposing big controversy regarding a big name, they won't be getting any nods from Science Weekly.
He Said/He Said
According to SI's report, Mitch Ross, co-owner of Sports With Alternatives To Steroids (SWATS), recorded a phone call with Ray Lewis in October of 2012. Sports Illustrated quotes Lewis as agreeing to use a cornucopia of different remedies suggested by Ross during the phone call, including a spray made from deer antler velvet. The spray, which is taken orally, is said to contain IGF-1, a substance that has been banned by the NFL. On Wednesday, Lewis spoke to the media and was adamant that he had not requested, received, or consumed any such substance.
"I've never, ever took what he says I was supposed to do,” Lewis said. “It's just sad that someone can have this much attention on a stage this big where the dreams are really real.”
The 17-year veteran, who has never tested positive for an NFL banned substance, essentially called Ross a “coward” and said he has “no credibility.”
“I think, honestly, and I am going to say it very clearly again, I think it's probably one of the most embarrassing things that we can do on this type of stage,” Lewis said of the media attention being given to Ross' allegations.
Ross stuck to his guns in a Tuesday interview with ESPN Radio's Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russilo.
“Ray did what he had to do to get back on the field, that’s what he said,” said Ross. “It sounds like he’s disputing it, I guess because he’s scared of [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell.”
Deer Antler Spray Debunked
Public debate roars along as to whether Lewis took the substance or did not, and some analysts have taken the stance that it's not particularly significant whether Lewis, or other athletes bend the rules to gain physical advantages. What has not been widely mentioned, however, is that the deer antler spray itself could not have caused Lewis' body to produce IGF-1.
IGF-1 is actually naturally-occurring in the human body, and its release can be triggered by the presence of a human growth hormone. While certain performance enhancing drugs can lead the body to produce larger amounts of IGF-1, Johns Hopkins' Dr. Roberto Salvatori told the Baltimore Sun that there is currently no effective oral delivery system for IGF-1. Essentially, the only way Lewis could have increased his levels of IGF-1 would have been by using a needle.
According to the Sun, Salvatori runs a lab studying growth hormone deficiency and has been at Hopkins since 1998. He is not alone in his assertion. PureMatters.com, a site that provides information and sells products related to health and fitness, includes the following pharmacological description regarding the ingestion of IGF-1:
Orally administered IGF-1 has very poor bioavailability. There is no credible evidence that IGF-1 is absorbed from the oral mucosa if administered as a spray. It is likely that orally administered IGF-1 is digested in the small intestine through the amino acids that comprise the molecule.
“The Bottom Line”
Ross, who boasts the celebrated accolades of former stripper and former steroids dealer, has a financial interest in having his products associated with Ray Lewis in the national media. In addition to Ross' credibility issues, the NFL does not currently run blood tests for banned substances (which is the only way IGF-1 can be detected). Essentially, the Sports Illustrated story and the ensuing media circus were never going to result in a scandal that could impact Lewis' place in the Super Bowl or his Hall of Fame career.
Thus, the most damaging result of Antlergate is that some will allow the allegations to besmirch Lewis' legacy in their minds. Is Ray Lewis a cheater?
There is no need to take a leap of faith to answer this question. Ray Lewis is accused of committing an act that, according to medical science, would not have resulted in increased levels of IGF-1. Even if the savvy 38-year-old had somehow come to the conclusion that it was a good idea to spray antler-dust under his tongue, the truth is that his recovery was in no way aided by a performance enhancing drug. You don't have to like Ray Lewis; you don't have to trust him. But, if you pay attention to the facts and the science, you can't point to Ross' claims as reason to doubt the validity of Lewis' comeback. Ray Lewis is not a cheater. As Lewis would say: Bottom line.