The makers of a deer antler velvet product are suing Major League Baseball for libel.
Nutronics Labs alleges that, last summer, the league told its players to stop taking what became one of the latest performance enhancers so as not to risk testing positive for methyltestosterone, even though it wasn’t listed as an ingredient. As a result of what the company calls “false, misleading and malicious” statements by MLB, Nutronics says its business was significantly damaged and as much as $50 million in business could have been lost.
“We were getting calls left and right,” said Dr. Ricardo Lentini, CEO of Nutronics Labs. “People wanted refunds. We kept telling them that what baseball [league] was saying wasn’t the truth. But we’re the little guy, they wouldn’t believe us.”
Major League Baseball spokesman Matt Bourne told CNBC that the league hasn’t seen the lawsuit and therefore cannot comment on it.
Deer antler velvet is harvested from the antlers of young deer that produces a substance called IGF-1, which deer antler velvet sellers say stimulates muscular development and, in athletes, helps to aid recovery.
Major League Baseball sent out its letter a few weeks after St. Louis Rams linebacker David Vobora was awarded $5.4 million in a lawsuit against a company with the brand name Sports With Alternatives to Steroids (SWATS). Vobora tested positive for methyltestosterone after he said he used the company’s deer antler spray. His attorney, R. Dan Fleck, said an independent lab confirmed that fact.
But Lentini, who made the product for S.W.A.T.S., says no deer antler velvet has ever tested positive for methyltestosterone or any steroid contaminant, including a sample Lentini includes in the lawsuit tested by an independent lab. Vobora won a default judgment, as S.W.A.T.S. didn’t show up in court. Soon after, the company filed for bankruptcy.
Although IGF-1 is not banned by Major League Baseball, Lentini said the note had the effect of a ban. Colleges, including Harvard, told their athletes not to take deer antler velvet based on the stories they had seen concerning baseball’s note to its players. Professional athletes stopped ordering the product. The lawsuit includes a letter from two companies who tell Lentini they have to cease business with his company because of Major League Baseball’s opinion.
In August, seeing that his business was slowing down, Lentini sent a letter to commissioner Bud Selig saying that his products did not, in fact, contain methyltestosterone.
“I didn’t hear anything,” Lentini said. “They never even said, let us test one your bottles. Let’s put it this way, if my product had methyltestosterone in it, the FDA would be busting down my doors and I’d be going to jail.”
While the NFL stopped players and even a coach (the Raiders’ Hue Jackson) from endorsing deer velvet companies, they didn’t go as far as Major League Baseball did by making any sort of statement about the legitimacy of it being a clean product.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story should have referred to Dr. Lentini as Dr. Ricardo Lentini.
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