Lawyer: Merriman drug test stems from supplement

Monday, October 23rd 2006, 9:46 pm
By: News On 6

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Shawne Merriman's attorney said the Chargers' outside linebacker failed a drug test because of a tainted supplement and will continue to play while appealing his four-game suspension.

Attorney David Cornwell said he believed Merriman tested positive for the steroid nandrolone, which is prohibited under the NFL's substance abuse policy. Cornwell said the substance was in a supplement Merriman has been taking.

"He did not go into the back alley somewhere and put a needle in his butt for steroids," Cornwell said at a news conference Monday, about two hours after Merriman practiced with the Chargers a day after their 30-27 loss at Kansas City.

Merriman said he spoke with teammates and coaches earlier in the day, and "apologized to them for this being a distraction, especially the critical time we're going through as a team."

"Hopefully, nobody makes any kind of judgment or anything that basically makes me guilty for anything, because nothing has been done wrong on my part," Merriman said. "And I will try to get it straightened out as soon as possible. As of right now, I'm not
missing any time."

The 22-year-old Merriman was the 2005 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and started in the Pro Bowl after leading the Chargers with 10 sacks. Nicknamed "Lights Out" because of his punishing hits, Merriman has 5 1/2 sacks this season for the Chargers (4-2), who host St. Louis on Sunday.

"I have no reason to do anything wrong, especially when I'm already in the spotlight and doing things and trying to present to people the right and wrong way to go about things," Merriman said. "This is obviously a mistake that has to be dealt with correctly."

If Merriman loses his appeal, it would be another blow to a defense that has been losing players since outside linebacker Steve Foley was shot by an off-duty Coronado police officer eight days before the season started. Shaun Phillips, who replaced Foley and has a team-high six sacks, injured his calf Sunday and could be out for up to four weeks. End Igor Olshansky has been out with a knee injury.

Cornwell said the appeal could take anywhere from one week to months.

Nandrolone "is the primary culprit in tainted supplements," the lawyer said.

"I know that people get tired of hearing it, but it is a fact and it is not going to go away until the Congress of the United States deals with it," Cornwell said. "Supplements are not
regulated and it is a dirty fact of this industry that many of them are tainted with prohibited substances and men like Shawne get hooked up and get penalized for taking something that they didn't know was present in the supplement.

"That's why this is such an evil process," the attorney said. "He has been playing, unwittingly, Russian roulette with his career because he's been taking the same supplements, and it has been subjected to testing, and hasn't yielded a positive test. So
he thought the supplements that he was taking were safe."

Late in the 2004 season, Chargers fullback Andrew Pinnock was suspended for four games for violating the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances. His agent said at the time that Pinnock accidentally took a supplement that contained a
banned substance.

Coach Marty Schottenheimer and players said Monday they were barred from commenting by the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement.

But defensive end Luis Castillo said he understands what Merriman is facing.

Castillo tested positive for androstenedione at the scouting combine in February 2005. He later said it was "a huge mistake" in taking the steroid to help his performance at the combine after he was slow to heal from an elbow injury sustained his senior year at Northwestern.

Castillo had a clause inserted in his contract stating he will forfeit his bonus money if he ever has another positive drug test.

"It's tough to deal with," Castillo said. "It tests your mental strength and it tests your support network with your family. We love the guy and we're sticking with him, and we told him that. Shawne's a mentally strong guy and he's going to come back from this and do great things for us."

Merriman and Castillo were first-round draft picks in 2005.

Besides Merriman's positive drug test, the Chargers have had five separate off-field issues dating back to April.

Foley was shot three times near his suburban home on Sept. 3 by an off-duty police officer who suspected him of drunk driving. Foley will miss the entire season and was charged with two counts of DUI.

Safety Terrence Kiel was arrested on five felony drug counts in September and has pleaded not guilty.

Cornerback Markus Curry, who had been demoted to the practice squad, was released on Oct. 9, just hours after he was arrested on suspicion of committing domestic violence.

Foley and Phillips were arrested for scuffling with San Diego police officers a week apart in April. Neither was charged.