Yesterday, SI reported that Ray Lewis had received the banned substance IGF-1, a muscle-building hormone resembling insulin. (Two years ago, Yahoo reported the same thing.) Lewis responded in two ways. First, he blamed it on the devil. Second, he noted that he has never failed a drug test.
"Every test, I've ever took in the NFL, there's never been a question if I ever even thought about using anything."
The Ravens, through a spokesman, reiterated the point.
"Ray has been randomly tested for banned substances and has never failed a test. He has never been notified of a failed test," said Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' vice president of communications.
IGF-1 is banned by the NFL and every professional sports league. But the NFL does not test for IGF-1, because it is only detectable through blood testing. The league and union are still fighting over how to implement blood testing, which remains an imperfect science. Lewis and every other player could take any number of banned substances, but if they're not detectable through urine testing, the NFL would never find out. That includes HGH, the non-steroidal PED of choice.
This point was muddled in the immediate aftermath of the allegations against Lewis. An ESPN.com article used to contain these paragraphs:
According to the NFL Players Association, the NFL tests for the banned substance (IGF-1) that Lewis was linked with in the SI article.
A league source told ESPN that it can be assumed that "Ray has been randomly tested multiple times for that substance."
Today the article has been amended, removing the league source's assertion:
The NFL Players Association said the league does test for IGF-1, the banned substance found in deer-antler extract, but the NFL said it is not detectable with the league's current testing methods.
The first half of that is still not correct. We followed up with NFLPA spokesman George Atallah, who told us that "wrong information was relayed"—and there currently is no testing for IGF-1. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed that for us.
Ray Lewis's defense—that he never tested positive for IGF-1—isn't actually a defense. This isn't to pile on Lewis, who would be professionally negligent if he didn't use certain untestable banned substances to get strong and hurry back from injury, since there's nearly no way he could be suspended for it. It's just to point out that any talk of enforcement or of cleaning up a sport, be it from accused players or league sources downplaying an epidemic, will never be anything more than lip service. In the NFL, and in all sports, the dopers will always be years ahead of the testers, who are left playing chemical whack-a-mole for the sake of public relations.