In a story that includes the phrase "he asks between squirts of deer antler," Sports Illustrated brings the fascinating story of two men aggressively marketing a line of health care supplements -- hologram stickers, the aforementioned deer antler spray, powders, underwear drenched in liquid (seriously) -- to college and pro athletes.
The company's name explains the concept: S.W.A.T.S., which stands for Sports with Alternatives to Steroids.
At the center of the story is none other than Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who is in New Orleans preparing to play the final game of his NFL career on Sunday. It is not coincidental that this story dropped on the day of Super Bowl Media Day. (Update: Lewis declined to discuss Sports Illustrated's story.)
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Here is a lengthy excerpt, placed here in full because of how fascinating it is:
Hours after he tore his triceps during an Oct. 14 home game against the Cowboys, Ravens All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis and Ross connected on the phone. Again, Ross videotaped the call.
"It's bottom, near the elbow," Lewis said of the tear. After asking a few pseudo diagnostic questions, Ross concluded, "All right, well this is going to be simple. . . . How many pain chips you got around the house?"
"I got plenty of them," Lewis replied.
Ross prescribed a deluxe program, including holographic stickers on the right elbow; copious quantities of the powder additive; sleeping in front of a beam-ray light programmed with frequencies for tissue regeneration and pain relief; drinking negatively charged water; a 10-per-day regimen of the deer-antler pills that will "rebuild your brain via your small intestines" (and which Lewis said he hadn't been taking, then swallowed four during the conversation); and spritzes of deer-antler velvet extract (the Ultimate Spray) every two hours.
"Spray on my elbow every two hours?" Lewis asked.
"No," Ross said, "under your tongue."
Toward the end of the talk, Lewis asked Ross to "just pile me up and just send me everything you got, because I got to get back on this this week."
Ross says he provided the products free of charge. He even trotted out a novel S.W.A.T.S. technology for the star client: undergarments -- black with Lewis's name and number in -purple -- drenched in pungent menthol liquid that Key and Ross exposed to radio waves. All Ross wanted in return, he told Lewis, is for the future Hall of Famer to tell the truth -- that he used S.W.A.T.S. products -- when he returned to the field.
On Dec. 5, Lewis practiced for the first time. He did not play in the final regular-season games, but remained a boisterous sideline presence and joined the jubilant locker room celebration after Baltimore routed the Giants 33-14 on Dec. 23 to win the AFC North.
Lewis had not talked to media for 10 weeks while he rehabbed his injury. Asked by SI if he had worked with Key and Ross during his recovery, he initially demurred. "I didn't work with them personally this time," he said.
When pressed, Lewis said, "Nobody helped me out with the rehab. I've been doing S.W.A.T.S. for a couple years through Hue Jackson, that's it. That's my only connection to them."
Asked if he had talked to Ross the night of his injury, Lewis replied, "I told him to send me some more of the regular stuff, the S.W.A.T.S., the stickers or whatever."
And did they help?
"I think a lot of things helped me."
So would he suggest S.W.A.T.S. to other players?
"If I did, I would've done said it by now," Lewis said. Asked specifically about the spray and the pills, Lewis walked away without comment.
There's a lot to deal with here. First and foremost, it shows how ardently Ray Lewis wanted to return to the Ravens this season. Knowing what we know now about his plans to retire, that squares.
But the story also takes us a bit deeper into the hyper-competitive world of the NFL. We've learned plenty about what athletes will do to be the best -- thanks Lance Armstrong -- but pro football is simply a different beast. So infused with violence and populated by men who seem to get larger and stronger and faster each year, we rarely see the desperate moments when those men try to find an edge.
Even if that edge comes from three squirts of deer antler extract delivered under the tongue.
Lewis, of course, already has an affiliation with Twinlab Fuels. That company markets Formula 52.