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Continued: Deer-antler spray latest 'thorny' issue in athlete supplements

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Last update: July 22, 2013 - 11:28 PM

Not everyone believes in the marketing pitches, however.

“I’ve sometimes smiled and said if a snake-oil salesman from the 1850s were to come back to life, this would be his job for the 2000s,” said Dr. Larry Bowers, chief science officer for the United States Anti-Doping Agency and a former longtime professor at the University of Minnesota.

Lentini said he believes WADA’s decision to remove deer-antler spray from its banned list of products proves it’s natural and steroid-free. That’s been up for debate since 2009, when then-Rams linebacker David Vobora failed an offseason test for the steroid methyltestosterone. He blamed it on a bottle of deer-antler spray, which tested positive for methyltestosterone, according to court documents in Vobora’s lawsuit against Mitch Ross, owner of Sports With Alternatives To Steroids.

Ross said the bottle, which belonged to one of Vobora’s teammates and was opened by the time Vobora used it, had been tampered with. Ross, however, didn’t fight the lawsuit in court, so Vobora won by default and was awarded $5.4 million.

Lentini argues that since deer-antler spray is all-natural and steroid-free it should be embraced by athletics, particularly the NFL, since it has been known to help players recover from injuries more quickly. Former NFL fullback Heath Evans, safety Roy Williams and head coach Hue Jackson are among those on record saying the product works. The NFL has since put an end to players and coaches endorsing the product.

“The argument that it’s natural, therefore it’s good for you is misguided,” Bowers said. “Lightning, rattlesnake venom and rat poison, strychnine, are all natural products. But I don’t think I would suggest to anyone that they’re good for you.”

Opponents of deer-antler spray also denounce the argument that using the product is as natural as eating a steak or drinking milk, two activities that also ingest IGF-1. Opponents say the “natural” argument loses credibility with a delivery system that’s contrived to bypass the stomach.

Athletes won’t stop looking

This isn’t the first time an animal extract has caused controversy as a performance-enhancing substance by athletes all over the world.

Pig brains reportedly have been used as amino acids to promote growth and recovery. Calf blood has been used as a growth hormone that reportedly increases an athlete’s oxygen levels and stamina. And in the early 1990s, the trainer for two record-setting female Chinese distance runners attributed his athletes’ success to the testosterone-boosting ingredient found in the fungus on the Chinese caterpillars they were eating in their soup.

Lentini claims “probably 40 percent” of NFL and MLB players use deer-antler spray.

“And we’d probably get 70 percent if the NFL did like the PGA Tour and said it was OK to use,” Lentini said. “I’m not going to name names or throw anybody under the bus. We have to abide by HIPPAA laws. But we have doctors who work for Nutronics Labs and they talk to our clients.”

Although the percentage of athletes who use deer-antler spray or HGH is unknown, no one disputes the fact that they are being used.

“I’m not naive, so I know it’s out there,” Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. “I’m all for our steroid testing and [HGH testing] because I’m a guy who barely even takes protein shakes.”

Like a lot of NFL players, Allen is concerned about there being a “fair and equal” process that catches cheaters but doesn’t subject players to being “stuck with a needle” an inordinate number of times a year.

“Obviously, we have to get this worked out and, eventually, there’s no doubt [blood testing] is going to happen,” Allen said. “I would just hope that guys will take the mentality that you don’t need this. You can get a lot of places in this league on hard work and effort. For me, steroids or HGH is a lazy man’s way out. If you have to put that crap in your body, maybe you weren’t good enough to be here in the first place.”

Not every athlete believes that, which is why deer antlers have taken their place alongside the likes of pig brains, calf blood and caterpillar fungus.

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