The lawyer for San Diego Chargers Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman said the former University of Maryland star will continue playing while appealing a four-game suspension for a violation of the NFL's steroids policy.
David Cornwell, Merriman's attorney, said yesterday that the substance for which Merriman tested positive was the anabolic steroid nandrolone. Nandrolone has been central in some controversial international athletic drug-testing cases and Cornwell said the substance, which is banned in the NFL's steroids policy, was in an otherwise legitimate supplement that Merriman has been taking.
"He did not go into the back alley somewhere and put a needle in his butt for steroids," Cornwell said during a news conference. The lawyer also said that nandrolone is often present in tainted supplements.
Merriman said he spoke with the Chargers players and coaches earlier yesterday and that he apologized for any distraction his personal circumstances might create.
"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."
In a telephone conversation with a former high school coach early Sunday, Merriman, the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2005, said he had failed a substance test but didn't understand why.
"[Shawne] said it was 'a situation where I tested positive,'" said J.C. Pinkney, head football coach at Douglass High School in Prince George's County who talked with Merriman on Sunday morning. Pinkney said the test Merriman referred to was for performance-enhancing substances, such as steroids.
"He said he had been taking this thing for quite some time. But he said that he had been tested quite regularly, so the positive test result was a surprise to him," Pinkney said.
Pinkney was an assistant coach at Douglass High when Merriman played there and the player lived with the coach for about six months when Merriman was left homeless by a house fire.
Pinkney said Merriman telephoned about 9:30 a.m. Sunday. San Diego lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, 30-27, as Merriman tied for a team-high seven tackles.
"He said he wasn't sure what he tested positive for ... he was definitely surprised," Pinkney said of Merriman. "He said, 'Coach, why would I take something knowingly? I've been tested like 15 times. I would be stupid to do that.'"
Merriman, whose 10 sacks and 41 tackles last season earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl, told Pinkney he didn't want the coach to be blindsided by the news and apologized that his own problems might be a distraction for his former high school team, which faces a big game soon.
This year, the 6-foot-4, 272-pound linebacker has 5 1/2 sacks for the Chargers, who are 4-2 and in second place behind the Denver Broncos in the AFC West.
A spokesman at the NFL's New York office said the league had no comment on Merriman.
First-time offenders of the NFL's steroids policy receive a four-game suspension. Those who violate the policy a second time face an eight-game suspension. And a third violation results in a suspension for a year. Players are not paid while on suspension.
Last week, two other players, Atlanta Falcons guard Matt Lehr and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Shaun Rogers - were suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy. But Merriman reserved the right to appeal his suspension, according to ESPN, so it was not announced.
At Maryland, Merriman had 22 sacks in a three-year career. A dominating presence, he left college with eligibility remaining and was selected 12th overall by San Diego in the 2005 NFL draft.
Leon Joe, a Chicago Bears linebacker who played with Merriman at Maryland, expressed surprise at the news.
"That doesn't sound like Shawne at all. ... I don't know what the situation was, but he's my guy," Joe said.
Merriman's difficulties are the latest in a series of setbacks for the Chargers this year.
Just before the regular season began, linebacker Steve Foley was shot in the leg by an off-duty police officer. Foley is charged with DUI in that incident.
Safety Terrence Kiel was arrested at team headquarters last month and faces charges related to possession and shipping of prescription cough syrup, a controlled substance.
Injuries to Foley's replacement, Shaun Phillips, and defensive end Igor Olshansky have also taken their toll.
The Associated Press and Chicago Tribune contributed to this article.