MANHATTAN (CN) – Vijay Singh sued the PGA for its “reckless administration and implementation of its Anti-Doping Program:” humiliating him by claiming that the deer antler spray he used was a “banned substance.”
Singh, one of the world’s top golfers, “seeks damages for the PGA Tour’s reckless administration and implementation of its Anti-Doping Program,” he says in his complaint in New York County Supreme Court.
The complaint continues: “After exposing Singh, one of the PGA Tour’s most respected and hardest-working golfers, to public humiliation and ridicule for months, and forcing Singh to perform the type of scientific analyses and review that the PGA Tour was responsible for performing, the PGA Tour finally admitted that the grounds on which it sought to impose discipline were specious and unsupportable.”
The PGA began its anti-doping program in 2004, and created a “Prohibited Substances and Methods List [which] essentially is identical to the ‘Prohibited Substances’ list created by the World Anti-Doping Agency (‘WADA’),” Singh says in the complaint.
PGA players are subject to random testing, and Singh says he’s passed every one.
The brouhaha began when on Jan. 29, when Sports Illustrated posted an article on its website, republished in its Feb. 4 print edition, under the headline: “Snake Oil for Sale and the Athletes Who, Science be Damned, Think it Might Work.”
The article was about a company called Sports with Alternatives to Steroids, or SWATS, which sold “deer antler spray” as “The Ultimate Spray,” claiming it could improve athletic performance.
“The SI Article lists professional athletes who have allegedly used SWATS products, including Singh,” the complaint states.
“The timing and emphasis of the SI Article make clear that it centered around the rumor that Ray Lewis, a key player for the Super Bowl-bound Baltimore Ravens, used the Spray.”
The next section of the 19-page lawsuit is headed: “The Truth About Singh’s Alleged Use of the Spray.”
It states: “In late 2012, Singh’s current caddie, Tony Shepherd, recommended Singh try the Spray to address knee and back problems.
“Shepherd, a longtime and well-respected caddie for many professional golfers, told Singh that the Spray was an all-natural product that he had personally used and knew other professional golfers were also using.
“Shepherd arranged for Singh to meet SWATS owner Mitch Ross, who confirmed to Singh that all of SWATS’ products were all-natural and did not contain any banned substances.
“Singh, prior to consuming the Spray, compared the ingredients listed on the Spray bottle to the Anti-Doping Program’s banned substance list to ensure that the Spray did not contain any banned substances.
“Having confirmed that the label on the bottle did not identify any banned substances, Singh sprayed the Spray into his mouth at times for approximately one month in the offseason.
“In January 2013, Ross asked Singh if he would give an interview to a reporter from Sports Illustrated who was writing a story about Ross and SWATS.
“Singh agreed to the interview believing that the SI Article was intended to highlight SWATS’ ‘good work.'”
The complaint then details the “PGA Tour’s Response to the SI Article”.
“After the Sports Illustrated internet story was released, Singh immediately telephoned a PGA TOUR representative to discuss the allegation in the SI Article that Singh had used a banned substance. Singh in all manner cooperated fully with the PGA Tour.
“The next day, Singh delivered a bottle of the Spray to a PGA Tour representative.
“At the PGA Tour’s request, Singh had also submitted a urine sample for testing the prior week. Mr. Singh’s urine sample was negative for any banned substance.
“The PGA Tour sent the bottle of the Spray to the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory (‘UCLA Lab) for analysis.
“In a report dated February 14, 2013 (‘UCLA Report’), the UCLA Lab determined that ‘[t]he material in the bottle is negative for anabolic androgenic steroids.’ Although the UCLA Lab identified one of the materials in the bottle as ‘IGF-1,’ it did not do any analysis to determine whether the IGF-1 material was the same substance that WADA banned, whether it was active or inactive, whether it was an ingredient which by its chemical make-up fell within the category of any substance banned by the PGA Tour, or whether Singh ‘used’ or consumed the substance in a way prohibited by the Anti-Doping Program. In other words, as events eventually proved, the UCLA Lab wholly failed to provide any analysis that Singh had used a banned substance. Likewise, the PGA Tour wholly failed to request the UCLA Lab to perform an appropriate analysis before deciding to discipline Singh.
“Despite having no foundation on which to determine that Singh had used a banned substance, in a letter dated February 14, 2013, the PGA Tour Anti-Doping Program Administrator, informed Singh that the UCLA Report results had determined that Singh had violated the Anti-Doping Program by using the Spray, something which is now known not to be true and which should have been determined before the PGA Tour took action to suspend Singh.”
The PGA Tour gave Singh seven days to respond in writing, and responded by email on Feb. 15, he says in the complaint. The PGA then suspended him for 90 days.
“In a letter dated February 19, 2013 (‘Suspension Letter’), the PGA Tour informed Singh of his discipline,” the complaint states. “The disciplinary aspect of the Suspension Letter reads: ‘After considering all of the information in this case, the Commissioner has concluded that your conduct is a violation of the Program rules. The sanction imposed on you for your clear violation of the Program rules is ineligibility to participate in PGA Tour or Web.com Tour competitions and any related activities for a period of 90 days. Given that your earnings have been held in escrow since your participation in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, your suspension will begin retroactively to February 4, 2013 and will conclude May 11, 2013. Your results, earnings and FedExCup points from both the 2013 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the 2013 Northern Trust Open will be redistributed.'”
Singh appealed on Feb. 25. The next day, the PGA told him he could continue to play while his appeal was pending, but it would keep holding is prize money in escrow – “as it had already been doing without authority or legal support,” Singh says.
“The PGA Tour warned Singh that he risked forfeiture of his earnings from this time period if he exercised his right to appeal and did not prevail even though the threatened 90-day suspension would not commence until an adverse decision was rendered by the Arbitration Panel,” the complaint states.
It continues: “Threatening forfeiture of Singh’s earnings while being allowed to play, and then imposing a suspension after the Arbitration, would effectively punish Singh for exercising his right to challenge the discipline imposed by risking lost earnings plus suspension.
“The PGA Tour had never previously disciplined other golfers in this manner for engaging in the same activity as Singh.
“For example, in or about 2011, PGA Tour golfer Mark Calcavecchia admitted that he had been using the Spray and actively promoted the product on behalf of SWATS.
“The PGA Tour did not discipline Calcavecchia, but instead merely told Calcavecchia, an admitted habitual and intentional user of the Spray, to stop using the Spray. Moreover, the PGA Tour told Calcavecchia to stop using the Spray without doing any testing of the product to determine whether its use was prohibited under the Anti-Doping Program. If the PGA Tour had done responsible testing of the product in 2011, it would have known that its consumption was not prohibited and Singh would have been spared this injurious treatment. Alternatively, if the PGA Tour had simply treated Singh the same way it treated Calcavecchia (and perhaps others), he likewise would have been spared this injurious treatment.
“Upon information and belief, the PGA Tour is aware of other golfers who have used the Spray but has not attempted to discipline those other golfers.”
Singh claims that IGF-1, Insulin-Like Growth Factor, which the deer antler spray allegedly contains, is “biologically inactive” and can’t be absorbed by the body except by injection. It may be prescribed for small children, as Increlex, which contains 10 million nanograms of IGF-1 per millileter, Singh says in the complaint.
It continues: “The UCLA Report determined that the Spray contains 60 nanograms of IGF-1 per milliliter, which is .00006 the strength of the IGF-1 in Increlex and the substance on the banned list. The Spray does not contain enough IGF-1 to be anything more than a placebo, as the UCLA Laboratory confirmed and the PGA Tour was well aware.
“Scientists have compared the amount of IGF-1 contained in the Spray to the amount contained in a dose of Increlex as pouring a shot of bourbon into an Olympic sized swimming pool and then taking a shot of the pool water compared to taking a straight shot of bourbon.
“The speciousness of the PGA Tour decision to discipline Singh is all the more evident because cow’s milk contains IGF-1.
“Obviously no athlete has ever been disciplined for consuming milk.
“Also, as the PGA Tour knew or should have known, IGF-1 could only have had an effect on Singh if the substance in the Spray were biologically active. The substance that the PGA Tour identified as ‘IGF-1’ in the Spray is a biologically inactive protein. “A biologically inactive protein can have no effect on a person.
The PGA Tour failed even to ask the UCLA Lab to run tests to determine if the IGF-1 protein allegedly contained in the Spray were active.”
Long story short, Singh says: “The PGA Tour knew, or otherwise ignored, basic and readily available scientific information that the misnamed IGF-1 found in the Spray is not a substance that the Anti-Doping Program bans.”
He and the PGA were headed for arbitration, scheduled for May 7 and 8 (this week), but, faced with science, the PGA punted.
“At every step, including on April 16, 2013, when the PGA Tour submitted its Initial Brief in the Arbitration, the PGA Tour knowingly and conveniently ignored all relevant scientific information concerning IGF-1 and the make-up of the Spray,” the complaint states.
“On April 24, 2013, Singh submitted an Answering Brief in opposition to the PGA Tour’s Initial Brief, addressing the scientific realities of IGF-1 and other issues.
“Upon information and belief, WADA and the PGA Tour communicated immediately after the PGA Tour realized that Singh had accurately unveiled the speciousness of the proposed ban. Less than two days later, WADA informed the PGA Tour that WADA could no longer ban the use of the Spray and was no longer including the Spray on its prohibited list.
“The PGA Tour did not disclose these events to Singh for several days. During that time, as the PGA Tour clearly knew, Singh and his representatives were working full time preparing for the May 7, 2012 Arbitration.
“Finally, on April 30, 2013, the day the PGA Tour was required to submit its Reply Brief in the Arbitration, the PGA Tour announced that it was dropping its case and would not seek to impose any discipline against Singh.
“Singh was forced to expend thousands of dollars for scientific studies that the PGA Tour should have performed and had an obligation to perform, expert fees, attorney’s fees and Arbitration costs.”
The PGA also withheld $99,980 of his tour winnings during the process, Singh says.
He claims the PGA’s negligence subjected him to public humiliation. He seeks damages and punitive damages for negligence, breach of faith, breach of fiduciary duty, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and conversion.
He is represented by Peter Ginsberg of New York City and Jeffrey Rosenblum with Rosenblum & Reisman of Memphis.
Singh has won 34 PGA tournaments, including three Majors, and was ranked No. 1 in the world for most of 2004. He has won another 24 tournaments overseas.
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