ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta/AP) — Sales for deer-antler spray are skyrocketing after a report in Sports Illustrated claims that Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis used it to return from injury quicker.
ESPN reports that an Atlanta-based company that makes deer-antler extract saw one of its biggest sales days ever thanks to the Lewis story.
“The phones have been ringing off the hook today,” Brianne Vaskovardzic, director of marketing for Private Label Nutraceuticals, told ESPN. “It’s the nature of the industry — when a sports figure speaks positively or negatively about a product, the sales pop.”
Curtis Fouts, owner of Southern Cross Velvet, says that sales of deer-antler products have grown from $8,000 to $350,000 in the past eight years.
“We’ve done eight times the business we normally do in each of the past couple days,”Fouts told ESPN.
Sports Illustrated reported Tuesday that Lewis sought help from a company called Sports With Alternatives To Steroids (SWATS), which says its deer-antler spray and pills contain a naturally occurring banned product connected to human growth hormone. The 37-year-old Lewis, the MVP of the 2001 Super Bowl, is the leading tackler in the NFL postseason after returning from a torn right triceps that sidelined him for 10 games.
SI reported that company owner Mitch Ross recorded a call with Lewis hours after the player hurt his arm in an October game against Dallas. According to the report, Lewis asked Ross to send him deer-antler spray and pills, along with other items made by the company.
On Wednesday, Lewis called Ross a coward and said he “has no credibility.”
Ross declined an interview request from The Associated Press but emailed a statement reading: “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.”
Christopher Key, a co-owner of SWATS, said in a telephone interview that the company removed NFL players’ endorsements from its website because “all the players were given letters by the NFL two years ago saying they had to cease and desist and could not continue to do business with us anymore.”
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed that but did not respond to other requests for comment about SWATS or Lewis’ involvement.
Teammates uniformly pushed the same message as Lewis and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh — “Everybody heard about it, but we’re not worried about it,” is the way rookie running back Bernard Pierce put it — and several said NFL players often are offered products to aid in muscle-building or recovery.
“You’ve got to be real careful. You’ve got to think there’s a reason they’re giving you this product,” Pierce said. “If someone has success, another person wants to be mentioned in that — like, ‘Oh, I’m the reason for that.’ If anybody tries to give me anything or tries to sell me on their stuff, I say, ‘Go right to my agent.'”
Wary of using something that has no real benefit — or, worse, that would result in a positive drug test administered by the league — players seek approval first from the NFL, the union, or a team trainer or doctor.
“I’ve been approached,” Baltimore nose tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu said. “They’ll come to me and they tell me, ‘This will help you with recovery and all that.’ I say, ‘OK. I appreciate it.’ And then I will call the NFL.”
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.
“He told me there’s nothing to it. … He’s told us in the past, he’s told us now, that he’s never taken any of that stuff, ever,” Harbaugh said. “And I believe Ray. I trust Ray completely. We have a relationship. I know this man. And I know what he’s all about. It’s just too bad it has to be something that gets so much play.”
While Lewis did face a handful of questions about SWATS, plus some on-field topics, he never had to deal Wednesday with a single reference to a dark chapter in his life: He pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in connection with the stabbing deaths of two men after a Super Bowl party at an Atlanta nightclub in 2000.
“We all in here have a past. You know? But how many people actually dwell into it? You know? Nah, it ain’t about your past. It’s about your future,” Lewis said in response to a question about keeping focused on Sunday’s game.
“And for me and my teammates, I promise you, we have a strong group of men that we don’t bend too much, and we keep pushing forward. So it’s not a distraction at all for us,” he said, raising a clenched fist.
“The trick of the devil is to kill, steal and destroy. That’s what he comes to do. He comes to distract you from everything you’re trying to do. There’s no man ever trained as hard as our team has trained. There’s no man that’s went through what we went through,” Lewis said. “So to give somebody credit that doesn’t deserve credit, that would be a slap in the face for everything we went through.”
Boasting that “you will never fail a drug test from taking our product,” SWATS co-owner Key said the company has sold its products to more than 20 college football players each at Southeastern Conference schools Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi, LSU and Georgia.
Alabama has sent two cease-and-desist letters to SWATS, university spokeswoman Debbie Lane said, 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.
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