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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Deer Antler Spray: Take Me Out Of the Ballgame



Steroids, game betting, spitters, corked bats, humidified "freeze balls," relaying catchers' signs -- Major League Baseball has dealt with all kinds of cheating since its early days. People say that serious cheating such as taking steroids has irrevocably damaged the national pastime. And yet many baseball fans consider some of cheating as rather silly gamesmanship.

Now, something relatively new is at hand. It's the old steroid game with a new twist. What about the use of natural substances that present almost no risk of flunking a drug test as an alternative to using steroids?

Baseball sent an odd warning to its major and minor league players last week: 
Stop ingesting deer antler spray. 

Deer antlers? Tom Verducci says, "Yes, chemists have figured out that the velvet from immature deer antlers includes insulin-like growth factor, or IGF-1, which mediates the level of human growth hormone in the body, and is also banned by MLB and the World Anti-Doping Agency, among others, for its muscle-building and fat-cutting effects." (Tom Verducci, "MLB Trying to Curtail Use of Deer Antler Spray as Steroid Alternative," sportsillustrated.cnn.com, August 5 2011)

The antlers are harvested from young deer, ground up and packaged into spray form. The spray can be purchased and used orally by ballplayers.

Believe it or not, the deer are already here. Players have felt free to use the spray at nearly no risk until now as an alternative to steroids.But this week, MLB warned players not to spray deer spray under their tongues anymore.Baseball acted on reports from the drug-testing industry and warned players that deer antler spray can produce positive tests for methyltestosterone, a banned steroid under both the major league and minor league drug policies.

The warning was not issued because the spray includes the banned chemical. Major League Baseball issued its warning about deer antler spray because it contained "potentially contaminated nutritional supplements." ("Report: Players Warned Over Deer Spray," espn.go.com, August 6 2011)

Evidently, the deer antler spray does not list methyltestosterone as one of its ingredients. Still, one manufacturer touts among its benefits "anabolic or growth stimulation," "athletic performance" and "muscular strength and endurance."

Are you confused? It seems that baseball is warning its players not to use a product made out of the antlers of young deer -- not because it boasts a banned ingredient right there on its label, but because it could be "contaminated" with another banned substance that actually might show up on a drug test. ("MLB Doesn't Like Deer," www.cbssports.com, August 5 2011) 

The approved clinical use of methyltestosterone is to treat men with a testosterone deficiency and women with breast cancer or menopause-related symptoms.
 
IGF-1, or insulin-like growth factor, like HGH (human growth hormone), cannot be detected in the urine tests used by baseball. Under the right circumstances, it could be detected in a blood test, but the players association has not agreed to blood testing.

“You can find it,” Jonathan Danaceau, a director at a World Doping Agency approved lab, told ThePostGame.com. “But saying whether this is synthetic or natural is hard to determine. It’s only detectable in blood, and most anti-doping tests are done in urine.” (Dan Wetzel, "Spray Gives Sports Deer-In-The-Headlights Look," sports.yahoo.com, January 20 2011)

Deer antler spray is currently being endorsed by some NFL players and bodybuilders. ("MLB Warns Against Using 'Deer Antler Spray' As Steroid Alternative," sports.yahoo.com, August 5, 2011)

Major League Baseball issued this warning as a preemptive measure. It could have been silent on the info that it received from drug-testing agencies, but baseball does not want to be hurt by more scandal, so it is protecting itself (and its players) from potential problems.

Does this throw a monkey wrench into drug testing? Since the product is culled from natural rather than from synthetic resources, should baseball players be allowed to use it?

I think this is the bottom line: Methyltestosterone is a banned steroid. It has been banned from use by Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball, by the U.S. and the International Olympic Committees, and by other athletic organizations. If deer antler spray contains the anabolic steroid, the product must be banned whether natural or synthetic. Will players continue to use it if it cannot be detected by current drug tests? Come on... you know some will.

Athletes will continue to strive harder to achieve a certain level of excellence and invincibility in their sport- whether through natural or questionable means. This means sports authorities and officials will be forced to remain on high alert to defend the integrity of their games.



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