Chargers' Merriman apologizes, will appeal suspension

Updated: October 25, 2006, 1:05 AM ET news services

Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman apologized to his teammates Monday, a day after ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that the second-year Pro Bowl player faces a possible four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

Shawne Merriman

Merriman said he wanted to take responsibility for what happened, but will appeal any suspension levied by the league, thereby maintaining his right to practice and play until the case is decided.

"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."

Merriman's lawyer, David Cornwell, blamed the positive test on a banned substance called nandrolone, and said Merriman unwittingly ingested the substance, which was present in one of his supplements. Nandrolone, however, is an anabolic steroid and is on the list of the NFL's banned substances.

"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, nearly two hours after Merriman practiced with the Chargers following Sunday's 30-27 loss at Kansas City.

The 22-year-old Merriman was last season's NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and started in the Pro Bowl after leading the Chargers with 10 sacks. Merriman is second on the team this season with 5½ sacks.

"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."

Cornwell said nandrolone "is the primary culprit in tainted supplements."

"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 as safe."

Late in the 2004 season, Chargers fullback Andrew Pinnock was suspended for four games for violating the league's policy on 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 several Charger 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" taking the steroid to help his performance at the combine after he was slow to heal from an elbow injury sustained his senior season 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 suspension, the Chargers have had five separate off-field issues dating back to April.

Outside linebacker Steve Foley was shot three times outside 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 linebacker Shaun Phillips were each arrested for scuffling with San Diego police officers a week apart in April. Neither was charged.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.