Some of you may remember a minor controversy that broke out just before the recent Super Bowl; one involving the victorious Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker/captain/leader/prophet/mascot/resident lunatic Ray Lewis.
The issue stemmed from questions surrounding Ray Ray’s miraculous 6-week recovery from a possibly career ending triceps injury. There was rumor that his comeback was not the product of physical training or divine intervention (as his repeated sobbing and prostration whenever the camera was present might indicate). Sports Illustrated broke a story in the week leading up to Super Bowl XLVII that Lewis, among numerous other athletes, had purchased deer antler spray, which contains a growth hormone known as IGF-1. In a recent story, golfer (yes, you read that right), Vijay Singh was cleared of doping violations by the PGA Tour, having admitted previously to using the spray, among other similar products.
Now while most modern athletes are utterly insane when it comes to getting a competitive advantage (see: Michael Jordan’s UNC shorts), we usually think of the NBA, the NFL, the MLB etc. when we hear about PEDs. These leagues all feature a long, colorful history of substance abuse (especially the latter two) in the name of winning. But GOLF? The sport that exists primarily as a vehicle for nap-time? The sport dominated by old, mostly blobby men who shoot a round with the boys and then sip ice teas and smoke cigars at the country club afterwards? WE HAVE A PED PROBLEM IN GOLF?!?! Great, now we can all look forward to the quite tranquility of the masters soon being destroyed by a 280 pound Rory McIlroy driving the ball 1200 yards and then ripping Jim Nantz’s head off in a fit of roid-rage.
But what is this magical deer antler spray that so many athletes swear by? For starters, you can buy deer antler spray from a company called SWATS (Sports With Alternatives to Steroids). Their website lists a number of athletic enhancement products, among them the SWATS ultimate spray. The spray is described as a chemical extracted from the velvet surrounding immature male deer antlers which contains a number of nutrients. Among these nutrients is IGF-1, which is banned by multiple sports organizations. By spraying the substance into the mouth, it supposedly builds muscle, stimulates anabolic growth, and even prevents cancer according to the website. Supposedly this practice is centuries old and has been used by the ancient Chinese as medicine. The store and website is run by Mitch Ross, a bodybuilder and former stripper, and Christopher Key, who believes he can cure cancer and AIDS with laser beams.
As to whether deer antler spray does anything, well … Ross’ claims might be a tad exaggerated. Having initially accused Singh of violating the PGA’s Anti-doping policy, the PGA retracted its case when the World Anti Doping Agency deemed the use of deer antler spray not to be in violation of the doping policy. There seems to be reasonable evidence that hormones like IGF-1 must be injected to work, and that deer antler spray doesn’t contain nearly enough to have any noticeable effect. It might well be the case that deer antler spray contains small doses of IGF-1, but the NFL and the PGA haven’t really made a fuss about it.
It does leave some question as to how exactly Ray Lewis came back from such a brutal injury (the divine according Ray, because, you know, he’d never lie about anything.) Ultimately, deer antler spray is probably not as effective as it is advertised and Vijay Singh, Ray Lewis, and others have been more likely duped than doped.