In another legal challenge stemming from the play-at-all-costs culture of the National Football League, a group of retired players has accused the league of supplying them with powerful painkillers to keep them in games, leading to lasting health complications.
Thousands of retired players have already accused the NFL of concealing the risks of concussions, which caused serious memory and mental stability issues. The NFL agreed last year to pay $765 million to settle those claims, although a federal judge has yet to approve the settlement, expressing concern the amount is too small.
The allegations in the lawsuit filed Tuesday, though, are perhaps even more scandalous: Teams hid broken bones from players and illegally handed out prescription painkillers and sleep aids like candy.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages on behalf of more than 500 former players, charges the NFL with putting profits ahead of players' health. Team doctors and trainers dispensed drugs without obtaining prescriptions or warning of the possible side effects, the plaintiffs contend. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in Atlanta for the league's spring meeting, declined to comment on the allegations. "Our attorneys have not seen the lawsuit and obviously I have been in meetings all day,” he said.
According to the lawsuit, players were routinely given drugs that included narcotic painkillers Percodan, Percocet, and Vicodin, anti-inflammatories such as Toradol, and sleep aids such as Ambien. Toradol, the lawsuit says, is "the current game-day drug of choice of the NFL.” It can raise the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, or intestinal bleeding.
Three members of the NFL champion 1985 Chicago Bears are among the eight primary plaintiffs: quarterback Jim McMahon, Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent, and offensive lineman Keith Van Horne. Van Horne played an entire season on a broken leg and wasn't told for five years, "during which time he was fed a constant diet of pills to deal with the pain," according to the lawsuit.
McMahon said he suffered a broken neck and ankle during his career, but teams pushed him back onto the field. Team doctors and trainers never told him about the injuries, the lawsuit states, and he became addicted to more than 100 Percocet pills per month, even in the offseason.
“Obviously, we were grown adults and we had a choice,” said Kyle Turley, who played for three teams in his eight-year career. “But when a team doctor is saying this will take the pain away, you trust them.”
Former offensive lineman Jeremy Newberry, who retired in 2009, said up to 25 of his San Francisco 49ers teammates would receive Toradol injections in the buttocks 10 minutes before kickoff. “The stuff works. It works like crazy. It really does. There were whole seasons when I was in a walking boot and crutches,” Newberry told the Associated Press. “I would literally crutch into the facility and sprint out of the tunnel to go play.”
Because of the drugs he took while playing, Newberry claims he suffers from kidney failure, high blood pressure, and violent headaches. His team-sponsored blood work showed precursors to kidney problems for years, he said, but no one told him until he saw a specialist after he retired.