David Vobora awarded $5.4M
"Today is a celebration," Vobora said Monday. "Today, I've been proven innocent."
U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel entered the order against the Anti-Steroid Program LLC of Key Largo, Fla., on Friday. Attempts to reach the company for comment Monday were unsuccessful and no attorney of record could be located.
Attorneys for the 25-year-old Vobora said he used the company's "Ultimate Sports Spray" in June 2009 without knowing it contained methyltestosterone, a banned substance that showed up in an NFL drug test and led to his suspension.
His lawsuit accused the company of intentionally misleading him and hurting his image in addition to lost income. The judge's order includes $2 million for damaging Vobora's reputation and another $3 million in lost "future income."
Vobora also lost $90,588 in game checks, plus the court ruled he lost $170,000 in performance bonuses and $100,000 in marketing endorsements.
"The issue has always been clearing his name," said R. Dan Fleck of Jackson, Wyo., one of Vobora's attorneys. "He didn't cheat. He didn't try to cheat.
Vobora said the Rams were very supportive, but that the emotional toll elsewhere was heavy, "from extreme threats to fan mail talking about hoping I never play another snap in the NFL. Hearing that I'm a disgrace, having to deal with that daily.
"To really get the ship righted, that's vindication."
Earlier this year, the NFL ordered new Oakland Raiders coach Hue Jackson to stop endorsing the company, which does business as Sports With Alternatives to Steroids (SWATS). The league in February also told some players they should not be associated with the company as it studied some of the products.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league supported Vobora's effort but added league policy places "strict liability" on the player.
"Players are responsible for what is in their bodies," McCarthy said. "We caution players that supplements are not regulated and what's on the label may not be accurate.
"Players are accountable for any banned substances that may have been taken by mistake."
Vobora said he followed NFL guidelines on nutritional supplements, calling a hotline set up for players and consulting experts. One of Vobora's attorneys, R. Dan Fleck of Jackson, Wyo., said the spray was recommended by one of Vobora's teammates, linebacker Gary Stills.
Fleck said Stills had been a paid endorser for the supplement company.
"I've taken a lot of pride into my hard work getting everything that's coming my way," Vobora said. "To have it all tarnished, it really flips your world upside down."
After the positive drug test, Vobora promised to sue and the spray was tested by an independent lab.
"The amount of steroid that was found in the bottle matched what was found in David's bloodstream," Fleck said. He noted that the company touted itself as anti-steroid, right down to its name, and that "couldn't be further from the truth."
The attorney said the judgment is believed to be the largest for any athlete who has been suspended because of a contaminated nutritional supplement.
Vobora, who played at Idaho and was the 2008 draft's so-called Mr. Irrelevant as the final pick, recovered from the suspension to start 10 games in 2009 and made five starts last year while playing all three linebacker spots.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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