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SNAKE OIL FOR SALE AND THE ATHLETES WHO, SCIENCE BE DAMNED, THINK IT MIGHT WORK
DAVID EPSTEIN
February 04, 2013
FROM THE BACK OF A GYM IN ALABAMA, TWO TRUE BELIEVERS IN THE PERFORMANCE-ENHANCING POWER OF RADIO WAVES AND DEER-ANTLER VELVET AND NEGATIVELY CHARGED WATER PURSUE THEIR DREAM: A FAMOUS ENDORSER
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February 04, 2013

Snake Oil For Sale And The Athletes Who, Science Be Damned, Think It Might Work

FROM THE BACK OF A GYM IN ALABAMA, TWO TRUE BELIEVERS IN THE PERFORMANCE-ENHANCING POWER OF RADIO WAVES AND DEER-ANTLER VELVET AND NEGATIVELY CHARGED WATER PURSUE THEIR DREAM: A FAMOUS ENDORSER

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In another secretly taped call placed by Ross, Seymour says he hasn't "heard a lot" about S.W.A.T.S.'s legal problems. He then told Ross, "I'm really looking for some cutting-edge stuff that obviously is all legal that would get me at least playing at a high level for another two years in terms of my body."

"You need to recover faster," Ross replied.

"Yeah," Seymour said, "I need to recover faster."

Ross, who insists that in two days his holograms can repair sprained ankles that normally take a month to heal, then discussed a regimen of chips, spray and negatively charged water.

The Internet ensures that S.W.A.T.S. cannot hide from the Vobora lawsuit. Which is fine by Key and Ross. They welcome the chance to market themselves as subversive. Even during the lawsuit, Vobora's lawyer Dan Fleck said, "They looked at the situation as free advertising for their product."

Likewise, the company embraces the admonishments it receives from athletic departments; they're evidence of interaction with major-college football teams. "Cease and desist use of all references to Auburn's football team," reads a letter from that school's compliance director. "Refrain from using the institution or its athletes in discussion of your product," reads one from LSU. (When asked for a comment on their players' interactions with Key and Ross, Alabama officials said, "We've sent them two cease and desist letters, and we are constantly educating our guys on performance-enhancing substances.")

Another piece of S.W.A.T.S.'s post-Vobora marketing strategy confronts football's grand bugbear: brain trauma. Ross is so sure that he can reduce brain damage in the sport that he plans to start a local nine-to-12-year-old tackle football league, which would include his son, and give the players "concussion caps"—beanies that they wear under their helmets and that are doused in a menthol-smelling, skin-tingling liquid that he says has been "programmed" with anti-brain-inflammation frequencies. Ross has already had success among former NFLers in hawking the brain-enhancing and repairing qualities of his frequency-programmed wares, once gaining customers by giving out free chips at the Dallas gathering of a chapter of the NFL Retired Players Association.

Joe DeLamielleure, a Hall of Fame Bills offensive lineman and plaintiff in a brain injury lawsuit against the NFL, uses S.W.A.T.S. deer-antler pills and deer-antler spray. DeLamielleure, who was suffering from sleeping difficulties and significant hearing loss, read about Junior Seau's sleeping problems after the linebacker killed himself last May and sought a remedy for his own sleep deprivation. "I still can't hear, but I sleep like a baby," DeLamielleure says. "It works, but my kids call me Mr. Placebo. Maybe it's me, I want things to work so bad.... My wife says pretty soon deer antlers will grow out of my head."

DeLamielleure has met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to talk about brain-injury treatment, and Ross has been urging DeLamielleure to set up a meeting so that Ross can present his concussion remedy. "Mitch wants me to walk in with deer-antler velvet," DeLamielleure says. "I can't. There's no science behind it.... Mitch keeps saying, 'Take me to Goodell.' [I will] as soon as he gets a doctor to say this is what they claim it is."

Heath Evans, an NFL Network analyst and longtime fullback who had three documented concussions, uses the deer-antler spray and pills daily. Evans is an Auburn alum and learned of S.W.A.T.S. through Tigers players. "The tabs are where I've noticed the cognitive ability, the sharpness, ability to recall," he says. "The spray I think has some good muscular things, I think some sexual sides to that as well." He does not "believe" in the chips, he says, but adds, "There are a lot of players who have put them on and run a faster 40 [yard dash] and benched more than they've ever benched before."

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