By Melanie Patterson
North Jefferson News
A Fultondale business owner denies any wrongdoing after being thrown into the national spotlight last week.
Mitch Ross, owner of Sports With Alternative to Steroids (S.W.A.T.S.), is being accused of providing a banned substance to college and NFL athletes.
Ross freely admits, in numerous media reports, that he has given S.W.A.T.S. Ultimate Spray to players, as well as to Major League Baseball and PGA athletes.
The spray is made from New Zealand deer antler velvet, and contains IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), which the NFL and other organizations have banned.
However, Ross insists that the spray is legal, saying it contains natural and not synthetic IGF-1. He said only the synthetic substance is the illegal, banned substance.
“You have to separate the two,” Ross said. “You can’t put them in the same boat.”
Ross did not create the spray; there are many brands of products containing IGF-1. He began to put his private label on the spray in 2008. S.W.A.T.S. also sells tablets that contain the deer antler velvet, and thus IGF-1.
His company grabbed headlines last week following the publication of a Sports Illustrated article that said Ross and his partner Christopher Key sold S.W.A.T.S. Ultimate Spray, tablets and other products to Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, after Lewis was injured during a game in October.
The article stated that Lewis took the products in order to heal more quickly from surgery after he tore his triceps in a game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Lewis has strongly denied using S.W.A.T.S. products, but Ross continues to insist that he did use them.
The Sports Illustrated article leads off with a large picture of deer antler velvet spray, with a label on it that says, “Snake Oil.”
Ross is unhappy with the article, saying the magazine portrayed his business, and his business activities, in a negative light. He said he had been communicating with the Sports Illustrated writers for 22 months before they visited his facility in Fultondale in October 2012, and thought he had built a good relationship with them.
“Do you think I would really sign up for that?” he said regarding the negative tone of the article. “I thought journalists were supposed to write the whole story.”
So what is his story?
“My goal is to keep kids off drugs and steroids, to keep them active,” Ross said. “If they do choose to enhance their performance, I want them to use things that are natural and God-given.”
He insists his products are safe and natural. He said his children use the S.W.A.T.S. Pain Chips, which resemble stickers that are applied to the body.
In addition to NFL players, Ross claims that football players from the University of Alabama, Auburn University, Ole Miss, LSU and other universities have used his products.
“The clients I say I have, I have,” he said.
Universities are distancing themselves from S.W.A.T.S. Many have reportedly sent cease-an-desist letters in an attempt to stop Ross from using the names of their universities and players in order to promote his products.
He has also lost the endorsement of NFL coaches and players; he says it was because they are not allowed to endorse any supplement companies.
However, he is keeping his chin up, saying he stays encouraged because of his Christian faith. He said his faith plays a big role in the way he does business.
“People around here know me. A lot of people don’t like me. A lot of people think I’m a fake,” he said. “At the end of the day, I follow Christ. When you completely sell out to Christ, you can’t be a warrior without some battles.”