Vijay Singh is suing the PGA Tour for exposing him to "public humiliation and ridicule" by investigating his use of deer-antler spray.
Now that's funny.
Because Singh was doing such a bang-up job of humiliating himself.
Rewind back to February and take another look at the Sports Illustrated article that kicked up a stir at the Super Bowl. It starred soon-to-be-retired Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and highlighted his purchases of the same spray that Singh used, from the same supplier, Sports With Alternatives to Steroids (SWATS), a two-man operation run out of the back of a gym in tiny Fultondale, Ala.
Turns out that in addition to deer-antler spray, SWATS was marketing all kinds of crackpot cures and pseudo-performance-enhancers — underwear exposed to radio waves, holographic stickers, even negatively charged water — to a growing list of college and pro athletes with the hope of someday getting them to endorse the stuff. The catch is that none of it works.
The deer-antler spray contains traces of the widely banned-from-competition substance IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), but to be effective — like real insulin — IGF-1 has to be injected. As Singh's own lawyers pointed out, he'd get as much IGF-1 into his system just by drinking a glass of milk.
Nearly all of the rest of SWATS' exotic offerings are based on the same kind of junk science. But Singh, unlike most of the marks that SWATS courted, was buying this mumbo-jumbo with his own hard-earned cash.
He even threw in a lukewarm endorsement at no cost.
"In November, Singh paid (SWATS owner Mitch) Ross $9,000 for the spray, chips, beam ray and powder additive — making him one of the few athletes who is compensating SWATS," SI reported. "He says he uses the spray banned by the PGA 'every couple of hours ... every day,' sleeps with the beam ray on and has put chips on his ankles, waist and shoulders. 'I'm looking forward to some change in my body,' Singh says. 'It's really hard to feel the difference if you're only doing it for a couple of months.' "
According to Singh's lawsuit, after his confession, the PGA Tour tested a sample from the golfer and found small amounts of IGF-1. Next, commissioner Tim Finchem proposed suspending him for 90 days, redistributing his earnings from Pebble Beach and Riviera and, in any case, held back about $100,000 of Singh's money while the tour investigated and considered his appeal.
Finally, Finchem dropped the case April 30, after learning the World Anti-Doping Agency — whose code the PGA Tour follows — no longer banned deer-antler spray because it was ineffective. Never mind that a handful of prominent anti-doping scientists said as much within days of the SI story. Yet just as things were quieting down, Singh hired some expensive mouthpieces and filed suit Wednesday, a day before he teed off at The Players Championship.
It's hard to say at the moment what is sadder: That the 50-year-old Fijian, who's already bankrolled millions and made it to the Hall of Fame, was desperate enough to take his caddie's advice and turn to a quack business like SWATS in search of a miracle cure for his aches and pains; or that he actually believes humiliating himself further is going to do much for his reputation.
He's already out $9,000, plus lawyer's fees on this case, and all those over-the-top pronouncements — "There should never be an asterisk next to Vijay's name," attorney Jeffrey Rosenblum said — only serve to remind us what we didn't like about Singh in the first place. He was banned on one Asian tour in 1985, after being accused of changing his scorecard during a tournament in Indonesia, and didn't play anywhere for four years afterward.
When Singh finally showed up on the PGA Tour in 1993, his unquestioned work ethic tamped down most of the whispers and winning took care of the rest. Now, beyond reminding us how desperate he was and how easily he was duped, the lawsuit is sure to stir up a few of those earlier episodes.
"If I was him, I'm not so sure I'd talk about it," Finchem said at a news conference Tuesday, the day before the lawsuit was filed. "I'd kind of like for it to be gone."
That's because the not-very-funny aspect in all this is that one claim in Singh's lawsuit definitely has merit. It's his call for more transparency in the tour's drug-testing policy. In a rush to join the Olympic movement in time for the 2016 Games in Rio, Finchem has dodged legitimate questions about the tour's testing regimen and its enforcement.
Exactly why Singh decided to become a crusader for fair play is an interesting question. Perhaps it was just to squeeze a few more dollars out of the tour that made him rich once, but where Singh isn't likely to win again — no matter how much deer-antler spray he squirts under his tongue.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.