Chargers' Merriman apologizes, will appeal suspension

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.

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

Cornwell said nandrolone "is the primary culprit in tainted

"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

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.