The NFL has ordered new Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson to sever ties with a company that sells supplements and markets a product the company says contains IGF-1, a substance banned by the NFL and other major sports organizations, ThePostGame.com has learned.
Jackson, who was promoted from offensive coordinator by the Raiders on Tuesday, began endorsing a company called Sports With Alternatives To Steroids (S.W.A.T.S.) while he was an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens from 2008 to 2009. Jackson ended his association with the company this month.
One of the S.W.A.T.S. products, "The Ultimate Spray," is labeled as containing deer antler velvet extract. On the company website, swatsteam.com, the spray is said to contain “very delicate and unique nutritional properties … such as IGF-1 and other growth factors.” IGF-1 is banned by the NFL.
S.W.A.T.S. owner Mitch Ross told ThePostGame.com he met Jackson at the NFL Combine in 2008 and forged a relationship. Ross said he supplied Jackson with free products, which he said were then distributed to players – including Ravens All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis. Ross also said he gave the spray to Cincinnati Bengals safety Roy Williams and two assistant NFL coaches, Anthony Lynn of the New York Jets and Jay Hayes of the Bengals.
“In April of '08 I gave various alternatives to steroids, including spray, to Hue Jackson at the Ravens’ training camp,” Ross said. “I also gave the spray to Jay Hayes of the Bengals and Anthony Lynn of the Jets. I want to prove that my protocol reverses the aging process on aging athletes and promotes the healing of injuries in a legal manner.”
Reached by phone Wednesday, Jackson told ThePostGame.com, "I’m no longer affiliated with this company. I don’t even know about a banned substance."
The NFL has confirmed its order to Jackson.
"We have a long-standing policy that prohibits coaches from any relationship with a supplement company," said NFL Director of Corporate Communications Brian McCarthy. "Coach Jackson is now in compliance."
When reached by phone on Wednesday, Hayes said, "I did not dispense the spray to players at all. Mitch gave me a sample. I still have it. I know Mitch, but I am in no way affiliated with S.W.A.T.S."
In a YouTube video posted Nov. 11, 2010, Hayes discussed S.W.A.T.S. products with Ross. He said he tried the spray.
A text message and a call to Lynn were not immediately returned.
Two calls and two texts to Ray Lewis were not immediately returned. A call and a text to Lewis’ agent was not immediately returned.
IGF-1 is also prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which oversees the Olympics, and most major sports leagues. It is a byproduct of human growth hormone, according to Jonathan Danaceau, lab director at the WADA-approved Sports Medicine Research and Testing Lab.
“It’s one of the proteins that is increased in human growth hormone,” Danaceau said.
Because IGF-1 is a naturally occurring hormone – much like testosterone -- it is very difficult to test for, according to Danaceau.
"You can find it," Danaceau said. "But saying whether this is synthetic or natural is hard to determine. It’s only detectable in blood, and most anti-doping tests are done in urine."
Asked about the mention of IGF-1 on the S.W.A.T.S. site, Jackson said, "I didn’t even look at the site."
In a YouTube video posted Sept. 16, 2010, Ross interviewed Jackson about another S.W.A.T.S. product, called “chips” meant to enhance energy through holograms embedded in tiny stickers. A sample of the chips were tested by Anti-Doping Research, Inc. and found not to contain anabolic steroids and stimulants. However, the study’s author, Don Catlin, noted in his report that results cannot be generalized to any other batch of stickers. Later in the video, Ross brought up "The Ultimate Spray." "You also brought my S.W.A.T.S. spray to some athletes," Ross said, "Garry Stills, Ray Lewis, yourself." Jackson nodded and said, "Yes."
S.W.A.T.S is being sued by Rams linebacker David Vobora, who alleges "The Ultimate Spray" sold by S.W.A.T.S. was contaminated with a steroid and caused him to fail a 2009 drug test. In a Dec. 1 order, a U.S. District judge noted that Garry Stills, who played for the Rams after being released by the Ravens in 2008, talked to Vobora about the spray and also lent him a bottle, according to published reports. Vobora tested positive for steroids in 2009, and the Rams suspended him for four games. In December, Vobora dropped Ross from the lawsuit.
"Once they figured out I had no money, they dropped my name from the lawsuit," said Ross (pictured below).
Vobora and his agent declined to comment for this story. The NFL declined comment on Vobora.
In an interview with ThePostGame.com in his Birmingham, Ala., office in December, Ross produced more than a half-dozen text messages he said were from Lewis over the past two years acknowledging receipt of S.W.A.T.S products and providing Ross with two addresses for shipment. ThePostGame.com has confirmed that both addresses were for properties owned by Lewis and the phone was registered to Lewis. Ross estimates he has sent 25 bottles of spray to Lewis over the last two years. (Each bottle, Ross estimates, contains a two-month supply of spray.)
A text message on Ross’ phone, dated Aug. 30, 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."
Reached by phone Wednesday, Bengals safety Roy Williams said, "I use the spray all the time. Two to three times a day. My body felt good after using it. I did feel a difference."
Asked about IGF-1 being listed on the S.W.A.T.S. site, Williams said, "I didn’t know it was on there. I’ve never failed a drug test. I don’t want to be associated with something that is banned. Kids look up to me."
Ross said he has supplied "The Ultimate Spray" (pictured below) to athletes in other sports, including motocross star Mike Metzger, who told The PostGame.com, “Using the spray, it felt like it rejuvenated my body.”
Deer velvet antler has been a staple of Chinese medicine for 2,000 years and is known in Eastern cultures for improving everything from overall health to sleep to athletic performance to sexual energy, according to websites such as deervelvetinformation.org, which bills itself as a "Public Information Site." Deer antler is a highly regulated food product in New Zealand, a nation heavily populated by deer and elk. The antler is covered with a soft substance, hence the "velvet" label, and it regenerates rapidly every year. Both Ross and his supplier, Blake Sawyer of Royal Velvet, claim on their websites that the spray they market contains IGF-1.
"It’s not synthetic," Ross said. "You have to understand it’s coming from a God-made animal. No athlete has tested positive for IGF-1 from my spray."
Danaceau insisted that doesn’t matter.
"It’s considered performance-enhancing," he said. "It’s similar to HGH in that it aids in recovery. It helps build tissue, and strengthen tissue -- more than you can ever do by training alone. Any preparation that is not naturally occurring is banned. Taking IGF-1 through deer antler is banned as well."
One recent study obtained by ThePostGame.com reports noticeable effects of velvet antler on athletic performance. The author of the study, Craig Broeder, former head of the Exercise Science program at East Tennessee State University, said it is under review by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Broeder tested the effects of velvet antler supplements on aerobic, anaerobic, and strength performance. He included 32 men who had a history of at least four years of strength training. Subjects were divided into two groups in a double-blinded, placebo-controlled study where they performed high intensity resistance training over 10 weeks. Half of the subjects were given 3,000mg of deer antler per day, with the other half receiving a sugar pill.
The results of the study showed several health benefits, including a reduction of body fat, an increase in body strength relative to body weight, and improvements in aerobic capacity. Most surprisingly, Broeder said, the athletes improved their cardiovascular performance without doing any cardiovascular activity.
"These aren’t the guys that want to get up on the treadmill and run," Broeder said. "They’re big guys. Yet, they significantly increased their aerobic capacity on deer antler velvet."
Only in the last generation has velvet antler been sold commercially in the West, according published reports. Antler is usually imported from New Zealand, where it is harvested, freeze-dried and powdered. It is distributed in various forms, from capsules to liquid extracts. Bodybuilders in the U.S. have used it increasingly over the past decade in spray form. (This avoids needles and syringes, as the liquid is absorbed into the blood stream from underneath the tongue.)
Ross said he has sold the spray commercially since 2008, for $68 a bottle. Neither Lewis nor Williams have ever been sanctioned by the NFL for a failed drug test.
-- Adam Watson contributed to this story.