Another Super Bowl week, another lesson in the amazing breakthroughs of modern science.
Until a few days ago, I thought of deer antlers — on those infrequent occasions I thought of deer antlers — as something that might be displayed on the wall of some rustic bar called “The Dew Drop In.” Antlers are a staple of any Dew Drop In, along with autographed photo of Hulk Hogan and the tin sign blaring: “Notice! If you’re drinking to forget, PLEASE PAY IN ADVANCE!”
But then the Baltimore Ravens showed up for the Super Bowl, which is to say the ubiquitous Ray Lewis showed up for the Super Bowl. Soon, the middle linebacker was peppered with questions about reports he had used deer-antler spray to help accelerate his recovery from a torn triceps injury.
The small company that manufactures the deer-antler spray traces its recuperative powers to IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), a substance banned by the NCAA and every pro major league. Lewis, on Tuesday, pointed out that he’s never failed a drug test. On Wednesday, he was more emphatic, stressing his career-long avoidance of performance-enhancing drugs.
It’s possible — probable, in fact — that Lewis both avoided performance-enhancing drugs and used deer-antler spray, which apparently has no ability to enhance anything but the income of the charlatans who are marketing it under the label of “S.W.A.T.S.”
S.W.A.T.S. — an acronym for
“Sports With Alternatives To Steroids’’ — is the brainchild of Mitch Ross, a former male stripper who compensates for his lack of a college science degree with a snake-oil salesmanship that would marvel Professor Marvel, the genial Kansas quack from “The Wizard of Oz.”
Ross’ company, according to Sports Illustrated, targets athletes as potential consumers of holographic stickers (to block harmful cellphone frequencies), and concussion caps (programmed with anti-brain inflammation frequencies), and oscillating beam-ray lights (capable of eradicating the swine flu in 90 minutes) and deer-antler pills, which are different from the spray. (The pills are designed to “rebuild your brain through your small intestines.”)
If Ray Lewis bought into this steaming pile of nonsense, he wasn’t the only one. Sports Illustrated reported that several members of the Alabama football team were persuaded of the legitimacy of S.W.A.T.S. products before the Crimson Tide rolled over Notre Dame in the BCS title game.
Pro golfer Vijay Singh is another disciple of S.W.A.T.S. Singh on Wednesday acknowledged deer-antler spray as a daily supplement but only because he presumed the spray didn’t violate the PGA Tour’s anti-doping rules.
With all due respect to those linked to deer-antler spray (Lewis, and the Alabama football team) and the one guy who has stood up and said, “Yep, I’m a believer” (Singh), there’s got to be a word for the kind of athlete convinced he’s drawing strength from deer antlers.
Dr. Charles Yesalis, a Penn State professor of sports science and nationally recognized authority on performance-enhancing drugs, offered one to the Baltimore Sun the other day.
“Doofuses,” Dr. Yesalis said.
The never-ending challenge to gain an edge on the playing field, by any means necessary, is assumed to be a relatively modern phenomenon that didn’t assert itself until baseball star Jose Canseco injected himself with anabolic steroids sometime during the mid 1980s. But the notion of American athletes appropriating animal strength from animals has been around for more than a century.
Hall of Fame pitcher Pud Galvin, whose career spanned from 1875 to 1892, won 365 games and lost 310. Owning 675 big league decisions is remarkable, but not as remarkable as Galvin’s 1883 season – when he started 75 games and completed 72 of them.
A 5-foot-8 pitcher who completes 72 games in a season had to have a secret, but Galvin kept no secrets. He touted the benefits of “The Brown-Séquard Elixir,” a concoction of animal fluids developed by Charles-douard Brown-Séquard.
The elixir contained testosterone from guinea pigs and dogs, and God only knows what else. Was Galvin onto something? Or was he fueled by the Placebo Effect, achieving an edge merely by convincing himself he had achieved an edge?
As a former college student who fulfilled the science requirement toward graduation with a version of layup-drill bank shot off the glass — psychology: best class ever — I am not qualified to provide insights into the benefits of ingesting the testosterone of guinea pigs, or a spray derived from deer antlers.
Instead, I will defer judgment to the Penn State professor who analyzed the effects of beam-ray lights and holographic stickers and concussion caps programmed with anti-brain inflammation frequencies. He pronounced their adherents as “doofuses.”
As for Ray Lewis, he’d better hope his fountain-of-youth elixir turned out better than Pud Galvin’s did.
The iron-man pitcher who completed 72 games in 1883 died on March 7, 1912. He was 45.