Manitoba

Blue Bombers' Andrew Harris suspended after positive drug test

The Canadian Football League has suspended Winnipeg Blue Bombers star running back Andrew Harris for two games after he tested positive for a banned substance.

All-star says he is devastated and in shock at results

Andrew Harris speaks to reporters on Monday about his suspension. (John Einarson/CBC)

The Canadian Football League has suspended Winnipeg Blue Bombers star running back Andrew Harris for two games after he tested positive for a banned substance.

"I'm still in shock and disbelief at the news. I immediately thought there had to be some kind of mistake," Harris said in a statement released Monday morning.

"I am devastated by the idea of missing two important games with my teammates. More importantly, I want football fans and young athletes around this country to know that I have not and would never cheat."

The Canadian Football League said in a statement that Harris tested positive for metandienone, which is banned by the league and its players association. 

Metandienone, also known as methandienone, is an anabolic steroid.

Harris told reporters at a news conference later in the morning that he had learned about the positive result three weeks ago and had been waiting for some decision from the CFL.

"It's been an emotional last few weeks … hard to focus on football. ​​​​​​I've got to face the music and just try to move on from it," he said. "I would never intentionally cheat and I'm in a situation right now where I'm being questioned. And it hurts."

Harris broke down in tears at one point, burying his head in his palm as some of those teammates walked into the room to show their support.

The Bombers' football club said it fully supports the CFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs and has fully co-operated with the CFL.

"The Winnipeg Football Club also supports Andrew Harris through this extremely difficult and unfortunate situation. We look forward to Andrew rejoining us on the field," a statement from the team said.

Harris said he was taking a supplement but declined to identify it. Neither the league nor the team revealed the nature of the supplement.

Tested many times

"Throughout my four years playing here in Winnipeg, I have been drug tested more than any other player on our team to the point that it has become a running joke within our locker room," Harris, 32, said in his statement.

"This year alone I've been tested three times: The first time on March 1, 2019, in the off-season, followed by July 2 (blood and urine samples), and finally 10 days later on July 12 through a urine sample.

"Somehow on July 12, just 10 days after a test that came back completely clean, I was notified that I had tested positive for the first time in my career with very small trace of a banned substance."

Winnipeg Blue Bomber Andrew Harris celebrates his touchdown during the first half of a CFL game against the Eskimos in Edmonton on Friday. He has been suspended for two games by the CFL after testing positive for a banned substance. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Harris said he was not using a banned substance for performance-enhancing purposes, nor was he aware he was taking any supplements with any banned substances in them.

"This is clearly a case of product contamination," he said, adding he believes he knows which supplement caused the positive test, even though it said it was made with all-natural ingredients.

"Obviously it wasn't and I'm taking full responsibility for the fact that I did take that."

Harris said the product was a male energy supplement that contains antioxidants, multivitamins and natural testosterone enhancers.

In Canada, nutritional supplements are required to be packaged with labels that clearly state their ingredients, said Dean Kriellaars, a University of Manitoba physical therapy professor and anti-doping expert.

That's not always the case with supplements produced in some other countries, he said. 

It's unclear what Harris consumed because he didn't identify the product.

"Whenever a person makes those attributes, they're typically trying to find an out," Kriellaars said. "The 100-per-cent response answer in the world of anti-doping is you're responsible for what you're putting in your body and you should have any suspicious substance tested."

Harris rejected any suggestion he was engaged in reckless behaviour.

"People know my history and my background, and I have always taken tremendous pride in having overcome adversity through sheer force of will," he said.

"I would never risk my career and the respect of my teammates, coaches and the fans in this manner."

The all-star is in his 10th CFL season and is leading the league in rushing yards. He won the past two rushing titles and no Winnipeg tailback has ever claimed three straight.

Earlier this month, he solidified his spot in the CFL record book by becoming the all-time CFL leader among Canadian players for yards from scrimmage and also made it into the league's top 10 all-time rushing list.

"As someone who has coached Andrew for four seasons now, I know first-hand the hard work and dedication he puts into his career as a true professional," Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea said in a statement from the team.

"While this is an extremely unfortunate situation, I support Andrew and look forward to his return in a few weeks."

Andrew Harris, seen running the ball for a touchdown against the Toronto Argonauts earlier this season, says he wants football fans and young athletes around the country to know he would never cheat. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Harris said he spends countless hours training, running, studying and putting in "blood sweat and tears" to be in condition to play his top game.

"I take a lot of pride in the honest blue-collar work I've put in to reach this point in my career. This is why this announcement is very difficult for me," his statement says.

"I pride myself on being not only a great role model to my daughter and youth throughout our country, but to my peers as well. As unsettling and painful as this is to me and my family, I hope this can be a helpful reminder to all athletes about being extremely cautious and aware of what they are taking and putting into their bodies.

"I'm very sorry to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for this unexpected result, and I can't wait to rejoin my teammates and the city of Winnipeg in our quest to bring a Grey Cup to this wonderful city that I am fortunate enough to call home."

Harris said he addressed the team on Sunday and it felt like he was letting his family members down. However, his teammates have all supported him, he said.

Looking beyond the suspension, he said he would like to work with the CFL Players' Association and be a spokesperson to caution others.

"I honestly don't wish this on anyone and if it can be avoided for someone else, I want to be able to try to help that," he said.

Andrew Harris cries after seeing his teammates enter the room to support him. (John Einarson/CBC)

Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols, telling reporters he is "one of those people who supports his friends in triumph and turmoil," was one of those who showed up to support Harris.

"I know Andrew and people would be wrong to question his integrity. Going out of his way to purposefully do this is not something that's in his character. It's just an unfortunate thing that there are products that are contaminated and there's zero tolerance in professional sports.

"We'll get past it and it's a good learning thing for everyone on this team and everyone in sports in general — and the general public even — that no supplements can be 100 per cent safe."

Offensive lineman Stanley Bryant was also among the approximately  dozen teammates who came into the room while Harris was speaking.

"We wanted to show him we have his back 100 per cent. We believe it was an honest mistake ... and we felt like we needed to come in and show that support and love just so that he can know we're here with him," Bryant said.

The Bombers will be without both Harris and the injured Nichols when they play the arch-rival Saskatchewan Roughriders in back-to-back games in Regina this weekend and Winnipeg the next.

O'Shea is not certain who will start at running back in place of Harris but said he is confident in the depth of his lineup.

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