SI’s David Epstein says he’s “100 percent” behind Lewis story

NEW ORLEANS - While Ray Lewis wasn’t willing to comment extensively on the Sports Illustrated report that he might’ve used an illegal substance to return from his torn triceps, David Epstein, the co-writer of the piece, spoke at length about it on WBAL Radio on Tuesday.

Epstein explained how the Ravens linebacker is linked to the story.

“In the piece, Ray Lewis, who these guys at S.W.A.T.S - the name of the company - say they’ve been dealing with for a couple years, and they kind of provided us with correspondence - text messages, calls, things like that - to and from Ray Lewis,” Epstein said. “And then when he tore his triceps recently in October, they got in touch with Ray Lewis and basically told him they could help him get back faster. And Ray said, ‘Yeah, send me everything you’ve got - the spray, the pills, the stickers, all that sort of thing.’

“So they did and they’ve been continuing to correspond with him through his injury recovery basically. I went and asked him about it and he acknowledged using the company, but basically ended the conversation when it came to the banned spray.”

Epstein was then asked whether there’s any record of Lewis using the banned deer-antler extract which was sent to him.

“No,” Epstein said. “On the recording, he’s asking how to use it appropriately, and Mitch (Ross) tells him the dosage and things like that, and he says, ‘Send me everything you’ve got.’ And he says, ‘We’ll get it right out to you.’”

Epstein was again asked about the likelihood Lewis didn’t take it.

“It’s possible and that’s why I went to the locker room and asked him about it,” Epstein said. “And at first when I asked him, he denied even knowing what I was talking about and denied having any affiliation with the company.

“And then when it became clear I knew that wasn’t true, he acknowledged the company, he acknowledged he asked them to send him products, and when I specifically came to the deer-antler spray, he didn’t say that. He ended the conversation and walked away.”

Epstein said he himself has heard the recordings and phone conversations many times, and that Lewis specifically asked about the deer-antler spray that contains IGF-1, which is banned by the NFL.

“It does specifically talk about the deer-antler spray in those recordings,” Epstein said. “In fact, Ray Lewis is asking how to use it appropriately and with the deer-antler pills, which contain the same substance, and what the dosage should be.”

Then why hasn’t Lewis tested positive for it?

“It wouldn’t show up in NFL testing. The NFL doesn’t do blood testing, so it wouldn’t show up,” Epstein said.

One of the interviewers remarked that the NFL said it would show up, however.

“It would be extremely, extremely difficult to pick up IGF-1 in a urine test,” Epstein replied. “I’ve covered doping for a long time. I can’t thing of a case when that happened in urine testing.

“Someone other than the NFL should be asked because the World Anti-Doping Agency and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency pursue IGF-1 testing and they don’t catch people in urine tests.”

In Lewis’ favor, Epstein explained that it’s not clear how severe of a doping infraction this is, and whether IGF-1 would help the linebacker.

“I’ve talked to a lot of scientists about this and none of them know what kind of physiological effects IGF-1, particularly taken under the tongue, would have. It’s meant to be injected,” Epstein said. “So no one can tell you how much of that would be biologically acted. There’s no expert and I’ve talked to them all.

“The part that’s most egregious about it is that this is a company and a product that of all the companies and products, was called out more loudly by the league than any other.”

Epstein also addressed the timing and motivation of the story coming out now, with Lewis about to play in his final game - Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Would it still have been published now if Lewis hadn’t come back for the playoffs or if the Ravens had lost in the first round?

“Absolutely,” Epstein said. “I don’t think it would be on the cover if I would have to guess. But we figured it was going to come out after Ray Lewis retired. So after I interviewed him in the locker room after the Giants game, we slated it for now assuming that the Ravens probably wouldn’t be playing anymore.

“That was kind of our assumption, so we thought it would be a story that was going to run a couple weeks after Ray Lewis would be retired. And we always close the magazine on a Monday, when the lawyers go through everything and the fact-checkers are done fact-checking. So a new story from the current issue of the magazine would always come out on Tuesday.”

Of all the investigative stories he has reported, Epstein said he stands by this one “100 percent.”

“I stand by everything there,” he continued. “We’ve all been fact-checked, every word’s been fact-checked and read by a lawyer and we went to every person that we named in the story for responses.”