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SWATS co-owner: 'Not some quack' peddling products

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SWATS co-owner: 'Not some quack' peddling products

FULTONDALE, Ala. (AP) The owners of the little company that stirred up the Super Bowl controversy with deer antler spray and other performance-enhancing products don't like being labeled snake oil salesmen.

There was plenty of activity Thursday at the modest, one-story building that houses Sports With Alternatives to Steroids after a Sports Illustrated article linked the company to college and pro athletes - including Baltimore's Ray Lewis. At the facility located in suburban Birmingham, phones were buzzing in one room while muscular young men were pumping iron in another.

SWATS co-owners Christopher Key and Mitch Ross bristled at the magazine's depiction of them.

``I'm not just this quack peddling these stickers,'' said Key, who received a bachelor of science degree from Alabama in 1996. ``This was my life work.''

His work - and his aggressive way of promoting it - has been in the spotlight before.

Ross' email signature ends with:

``If you ain't chippin, you must be trippin''

``If you're still cheatin, you ain't competin''

Auburn's Dr. Frederick Kam, director of the AU medical clinic, Michael Goodlett, team doctor for the Tigers' football squad, and David Pascoe, a professor of the university's kinesiology department, gathered for a meeting requested by Key to demonstrate SWATS products about two years ago.

Goodlett and Pascoe weren't interested in the products.

Kam, who said he has no scientific evidence that SWATS' products work, described Key as ``very fast-talking, salesy.''

``One of my clinicians says he is the P.T. Barnum of the present time,'' Kam said, while adding he knows people who have claimed benefit from similar products.

Key's tactics are working - for SWATS at least.

His phone goes off frequently during Thursday's 45-minute interview with The Associated Press and while Key doesn't give specifics, it's pretty clear the attention this week has been good for business.

``It's been good crazy,'' Key said. ``It's been the best thing that could have happened. It's been fabulous.''

Just not for everybody.

The apparent link to the company has led Lewis to spend part of the week leading to the final game of a brilliant 17-year NFL career addressing questions about SWATS. He denied ever using any of the company's products.

Key and Ross declined to discuss Lewis in the interview. Ross said he planned to hold a news conference in New Orleans on Friday, two days before the city hosts the Super Bowl.

Still, Lewis' poster is among those lining the walls in the front room with apparent testimonials promoting SWATS beneath the pictures. The message on Lewis's poster contends that pain in his lower back disappeared after he used one of the company's chips in 2008.

``I will never compete without them,'' it says.

Key said the company has had dealings with players from five Southeastern Conference football programs - at least three of which have asked them to stay away. Ross said players from LSU, Mississippi and in the SEC championship game wore the chips during their games with Alabama.

He said he provided the chips for free to four Alabama players who went on to the NFL during the 2008 season. The two have said 20-plus Alabama players used it during the 2009 national title season and others from Auburn used it en route to the championship a year later.

While there may be legitimate questions about their products, Key and Ross say they're just passionate about products that he believes work. He angrily holds up the magazine page with the words ``Snake Oil Salesmen.''

While Key acknowledges the company is benefiting from all the publicity, Ross said this ``this is different'' and vows he'll explain why on Friday.

``I've been working with professional athletes since 2006. Reggie Bush. Terrell Owens. We can go on and on,'' said Ross, a former male stripper who frequently cites his religious faith. ``But I signed up for this? Really? Who would do that? I signed up for my company to be what's out there. This is all about helping people. God just put me in a sports world and everything that's happened this week and every bit of this story, God knew it was going to happen.

``And He allowed it to happen the way it happened.''

The two maintain that the deer antler spray is natural and won't lead players to fail drug tests.

Ross, 45, has had at least one prominently dissatisfied client.

St. Louis Rams linebacker David Vobora was awarded $5.4 million in June 2011 against Ross's former company, Anti-Steroid Program LLC of Key Largo, Fla. Vobora was suspended for four games in 2009 after testing positive for methyltestosterone, a banned substance, after using the company's ``Ultimate Sports Spray.''

Ross's take is ``that clown spiked my bottle of spray. That bottle went through four hands in three states.''

Nowadays, Key isn't complaining about claiming some of the spotlight ahead of a game featuring coaching brothers Jim and John Harbaugh and Lewis's finale.

``Right now, we have what's supposed to be the biggest game ever,'' Key said. ``You've got two brothers playing each other, you've got the guy who's about to retire and right now, what are they talking about? They're talking about SWATS.''

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Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

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USA TODAY Sports

Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Willie Snead has a knack for weaving through a row of linebackers in the middle of the field before making a clutch catch for the Baltimore Ravens.

Such was the case last Sunday against Tennessee, when Snead squeezed between two defenders for a 24-yard gain on a third-and-17 from the Baltimore 15.

"He's on the ground, he makes the catch, he's getting pushed back to the ground, stepped all over, and he just gets up and gives the first-down signal right there in the guy's face," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's the kind of competitor he is. He's all ball, all the time."

Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome rarely chases restricted free agents, but he made an exception with Snead this past offseason after it became apparent that the receiver's three-year run in New Orleans was done. One of Drew Brees' favorite targets in 2015 and 2016, Snead began last season with a three-game suspension for violating the NFL personal conduct policy. He then fought a hamstring injury and finished with just eight catches for 92 yards and no touchdowns.

Armed with a two-year, $10.4 million contract, Snead was delighted to arrive in Baltimore last April.

"Last year just left a really bitter taste in my mouth, the organization and how everything was handled," Snead said Tuesday. "To be a part of this organization was just a breath of fresh air. I wanted to go somewhere where I'm wanted."

It couldn't have worked out better for Snead -- and the Ravens.

"To see that you were right, to see all that come together and him play so well, being exactly what you thought you were going to get, is very rewarding," Harbaugh said.

Snead was one of three free agent receivers signed by Newsome in an effort to enhance a passing game that sputtered in 2017. Snead is the possession receiver, Michael Crabtree provides an outside threat and John Brown is the speedster.

Snead and Crabtree are tied for the team lead with 30 catches. Brown has 21 receptions for a team-high 424 yards and three touchdowns.

"I don't have the physical ability like John Brown to run by you, and I'm not big and strong like Michael Crabtree," Snead observed, "so I have to work harder than everybody else just to stand out."

That's how it's always been for Snead, who finally finds himself in a place where his talent is acknowledged and appreciated.

"This is a guy that's been doubted his whole career -- high school, college and the NFL," Harbaugh said. "So I'm fine if they keep doubting him."

After starring as a quarterback at Muskegon Heights in Michigan, Snead played three years as a receiver at Ball State before going undrafted in 2014. He finally made it to the NFL the following year.

"Coming out of college, (people said) I left too early, I wasn't ready to play in the NFL," Snead recalled. "And in the NFL, it was, `Is he fast enough to separate? Can he make those plays in clutch situations?' I've always been doubted."

Not anymore.

"I'll tell you one thing, Willie comes Sunday ready to play," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He's one of the toughest guys I've been around."

This Sunday, the Ravens (4-2) host the Saints (4-1). Snead insists this wasn't one of those games that he circled on the calendar.

"This is another team. I have to approach it that way just to stay focused," Snead said.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton has seen enough of Snead this season to know he's a threat with the ball, and without it.

"He has a tremendous amount of grit. You see him making plays on third down," Payton said. "He's an outstanding blocker. He'll come across in motion, he'll get to the point of attack in the run game, but he'll also find the holes in the zone and man-to-man coverages."

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Snead has no problem mixing it up with anyone, large or small, at any spot on the field.

"He can go inside or outside, but man, he makes some -- scouts call them blood area -- catches," Harbaugh said. "In the middle, that's where he thrives."

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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

The defensive performance on display by the Baltimore Ravens Sunday against the Tennessee Titans in a 21-0 shutout win was flat out historic. So historic that it's earned linebacker Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

A franchise-record 11 sacks were laid on quarterback Marcus Mariota during the Week 6 matchup, with Smith leading the way with three of them.   

So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. As someone who is in the final year of his rookie NFL contract, he's certainly proving he is worthy of getting paid this offseason. 

"It feels great, man. It's big," Smith said of the honor during media availability Wednesday. "I know when I first found out I called my mom and she was already looking at it. But I called her and she was trying to congratulate me and was like 'who would've ever thought the guy that played one year of high school football would be where he at now and making so many goals.'"

But earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week isn't the only goal Smith has in mind. His performance through the first six weeks and assisting the No. 1 ranked scoring defense is just a stepping stone to the ultimate honor.

"I was telling her, 'Ma you know this is a good self-goal but my main goal is to get us to the Super Bowl.'" 

The road to the Super Bowl for Smith and the Ravens continues this Sunday vs. Drew Brees and the Saints. 

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