San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers throws a pass during drills at opening day of training camp at Chargers' Park Thursday, July 30, 2015, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
Lenny Ignelzi
July 30, 2015

SAN DIEGO (AP) San Diego Chargers star tight end Antonio Gates didn't shed much light on the surprising drug suspension that will sideline him for the season's first four games.

Gates was in good spirits, though, with his usual bright smile, as he said Thursday that he's not sure how the substance got into his body that led to a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug.

''I get this crowd when I catch 13 touchdowns,'' Gates said to the big media throng that turned out for the first day of training camp.

Gates, entering his 13th season, said a big part of his routine is taking naturopathic medicine, ''just taking certain things for my cleansing, my kidney, liver, making sure my sugar level is right.

''As you get older you have to find a way to take care of yourself in terms of recovery. So, unfortunately, certain things that you take, which is in a light of just trying to do the right things, just trying to make sure when you're done playing you're still able to walk, talk and be able to enjoy your family, it's just not NFL approved.''

Gates, 35, who's had a squeaky clean image during his Hall of Fame-caliber career, was pressed for specifics on what he took.

''I've got to be careful how I answer this,'' he said. ''I'm not really quite sure how it got in my system, particularly, but it was in there.

''I've been doing the same things over and over in terms of after the season, just taking care of my body. I'm very intuitive on what my body needs and what I need to come out and perform every single year. It's just somewhere where it showed up in a test.''

''Out of 100,000 tests I've taken in the NFL, one test proved to be positive and who's to say how it got in my system.''

NFL players know they're responsible for what they put in their bodies. They're told to check with team medical officials or call an 800 number to check before taking supplements.

''I was unaware that I was taking something,'' Gates said. ''I wouldn't consider myself having to do those things when in your mind, your body's feeling a certain way and you go to the store and you're like, `OK, let me do something to help myself in terms of pain or decreasing pain, it doesn't dawn on you at that particular time, `Oh man, let me turn this box over and let me see if the 166 things on the list is actually on this box. It's changed a whole bunch. This league is totally different than when I got here, the things you can take and you can't take.''

Gates will be suspended without pay for the first four games. He can practice with the team and play in exhibition games, but then will be barred from the team until Oct. 5, when the Chargers host the Steelers in a Monday night game.

Gates said he's been in the random testing program for six years ''just because of the response. In the offseason I don't respond, you know, I guess, adequate enough for them; 24 hours I think is the time frame. So I've been in that system for years. So now I get tested like once a week. It becomes a joke, in a sense. So when they come to my house, I make light of it. It's kind of like, you can't be upset with something that's so far-fetched, in a sense. So I just make light of it; I have fun with it, man.''

Gates said he'll get past this.

''I'm an inner city kid. I grew up in Detroit, so dealing with adversity is kind of like part of my forte,'' Gates said. ''I grew up in a rough neighborhood. I lost my sister to lupus. Sports is a big part of my life, but it ain't everything,'' Gates said. ''I apologized to my teammates and my family, but this is something I can definitely get over. I can definitely move forward from this.''

Gates' 22-year-old sister, Pamela, died last summer, just before training camp began.

Quarterback Philip Rivers is Gates' closest friend on the team.

''I first hated it for him,'' Rivers said. ''I felt for him. You don't like to see a buddy and a friend deal with that. It certainly affects your team when you have one of your best players you're going to be missing.''

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