United States District Judge Rodney W. Sippel in Missouri awarded $5.4 million to a professional football player in a case involving a “tainted” dietary supplement. St. Louis Ram linebacker David Vobora filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the Ultimate Sports Spray alleging that a “velvet deer antler” supplement caused him to test positive for methyltestosterone metabolites. Methyltestosterone is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the NFL Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substance.
David Vobora was suspended for four games without pay for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing substances in 2009. During his suspension, Vobora lost approximately $90,000. Thereflected lost marketing endorsement opportunities, lost wages and performance bonuses and “damage to his reputation”.
“The court believes the evidence demonstrates that as an NFL player, and due to Mr. Vobora’s position as a ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ (who became a starter in the NFL), he had unique opportunities to earn income from non-NFL sources to promote and market products and events for economic gain,” the judge wrote.
The judgment includes $2 million for general damages, $3.04 million for loss of future income, $170,000 for lost performance bonuses, $90,588 for forfeited game pay and $100,000 for loss of marketing endorsements.
“So many of the athletes are claiming that they haven’t cheated and the supplements have been tainted, R. Daniel Fleck, Vobora’s lawyer, said in a phone interview. “And it’s true.”
The manufacturer of the Ultimate Sports Spray is a company doing business as “Sports With Alternatives To Steroids” or S.W.A.T.S. The legal name of the company is Anti-Steroid Program LLC. The company identifies itself as a Christian company providing “Christian role models teaching all athletes–from youth athletes to professionals–about character and staying drug free from steroids as well as recreational drugs and alcohol”. Ironically, the supplement they were promoting as an alternative to steroids allegedly contained methyltestosterone.
The sports agent for Vobora, Marc Lillibridge of the National Sports Agency, hired an independent toxicologist to analyze Ultimate Sports Spray. The toxicologist allegedly determined that methyltestosterone was one of the undisclosed ingredients in Ultimate Sports Spray. Judge Sippel agreed with the plaintiff that SWATS intentionally misrepresented the supplement to Vobora.
Lillibridge has asked the NFL to revoke Vobora’s suspension. While the courts have “vindicated” Vobora, the NFL still maintains a strict liability policy regarding the use of banned substances; players are fully responsible for any performance-enhancing drugs detected in their body regardless of whether its use was intentional or accidental.