New Orleans Saints fullback Heath Evans is the latest professional athlete to admit using a product called The Ultimate Spray that is touted by its maker as containing the banned substance IGF-1.
The Ultimate Spray is labeled as including deer antler velvet extract, and it is made by a company called SWATS -- Sports With Alternatives To Steroids -- that was successfully sued by St. Louis Rams linebacker David Vobora after he tested positive in 2009 for methyltestosterone.
Mitch Ross, the owner of SWATS, says his spray contains IGF-1, which stands for insulin-like growth factor. It is a growth hormone banned by the NFL, WADA, and most other major sports organizations. The makers of the spray have provided ThePostGame with two lab results that claim to show IGF-1 is in tested samples of the Ultimate Spray. Ross says his product does not contain methyltestosterone, which is what Vobora tested positive for in 2009. Last week, Vobora won $5.4 million in a lawsuit against SWATS. However, Ross was taken off the lawsuit and says the company named in the suit, Anti-Steroid Program LLC, no longer exists.
Evans said he first took deer antler in liquid form during training camp in 2008 while with the New England Patriots and called it the best preseason of his career. He began using it again this offseason in spray form.
"I took [deer antler] to recover from the rigors of two-a-days," Evans said. "There are some rest and recovery aspects that are noticeable. I've been using the spray for the last couple weeks, and I've been seeing the same effects. There's sleep of a deeper nature."
Ross said he has supplied the spray to more than a dozen NFL players. Furthermore, athletes including Cincinnati Bengals safety Roy Williams, pro golfer Mark Calcavecchia and motocross rider Mike Metzger told ThePostGame they have used The Ultimate Spray. Ross provided several text messages from a phone number belonging to All-Pro Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis acknowledging receipt of shipments of the spray and asking for more. Lewis is not known to have failed a drug test.
The NFL is already wary of Ross and SWATS. League officials told Oakland Raiders coach Hue Jackson in January to cut all ties with SWATS, which had a testimonial from Jackson on its website. The league followed with letters to players listed on the SWATS website mandating them to do the same. Evans said he has not received a letter from the NFL, but said he would stop using the product if instructed by league officials to do so.
Currently no widely accepted test for IGF-1 exists. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said he hopes the league can begin testing for IGF-1 and HGH under the new collective bargaining agreement currently being negotiated. He added that the league can suspend a player without a positive drug test "if we have substantial evidence," although no punishment can be levied during the lockout.
"Without the blood test, there would be no conclusive evidence," Aiello said. "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 Ultimate Spray to determine whether it contains IGF-1, Aiello said, "We're not going to discuss what plans we may or may not have."
Evans said he was introduced to deer antler velvet from "The Maker's Diet" author Jordan Rubin, who credited his dietary habits for his recovery from Crohn's disease. He said he stopped using the raw form of deer antler because of "laziness" and because the taste "would make a billy goat puke."
Deer antler velvet has been a staple of Chinese medicine for generations. It is believed by proponents to help with everything from joint pain to hypertension to athletic performance to immunity from diseases like cancer.
Evans said he learned only recently of Ross (pictured below), SWATS, and the Ultimate Spray from players at Auburn, where he attended school and where he is training during the lockout. Several Auburn players say they used another SWATS product called "chips," which are holographic patches embedded in bracelets or taped onto acupuncture points on the body. The chips contain formulas for over-the-counter nutrients that help restore energy and strength, according to Ross. Several Auburn players say they wore the chips during the 2010 season and credit them for helping them win the 2011 BCS title game.
"I've never even seen Mitch face to face," Evans said. "There was a lot of information floating around about what the Auburn guys were on. I learned of Mitch through the Auburn players who were using the performance chips."
Evans said he's been willing to try the spray because of his positive experience with raw deer antler. "I'm more about the deer antler product than his spray," he said.
Evans said he has never tested positive for any banned substance. He is considered a model NFL citizen, known for his foundation dedicated to helping victims of childhood sexual abuse. He's aware SWATS touts IGF-1, and he acknowledges IGF-1 is a banned substance, but he sees a distinction between IGF-1 and anabolic steroids.
"Here's the thing about IGF-1," he said. "It almost becomes a bad term, but it's found in your body. It's found in foods. There will be people saying, 'You're taking growth hormone.' But no, it's deer antler."
IGF-1 is present in the human liver, and in some food products. To Evans and other athletes, the fact that deer antler is the source of the banned substance makes it acceptable.
"It could be [that] one day Roger Goodell says, 'You can't take this stuff,' " Evans said. "When they add [deer antler] to the banned list, I won't take it anymore. Until the NFL adds it to the banned substance list, I'm not sure why anyone wouldn't take it."
Evans said he is confident he won't test positive for the substance Vobora tested positive for using. "If you do steroids, you're going to put on 20 pounds of muscle," he said. "I can't do that. If I test positive, Mitch and I are going to have a misunderstanding."
A test of a sample of the spray conducted earlier this year by the respected Anti-Doping Research lab under Don Catlin found no positive match for methyltestosterone.
Evans is a 10-year NFL veteran, playing in all 16 games for the Saints last season and scoring a touchdown.