A group of retired American football players accused the league in a lawsuit Tuesday of cynically supplying them with powerful painkillers that kept them in the game but led to serious complications down the road.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, charges the National Football League with chasing profits over protecting its players’ health. To speed injured athletes’ return to the field, the league administered drugs illegally, without obtaining prescriptions or warning of the possible side effects, the plaintiffs contend.
The case comes less than a year after the NFL agreed to pay $765 million to settle lawsuits from thousands of retired players who accused it of concealing the risks of concussions. The athletes blamed dementia and other health problems on the bone-crushing hits that helped lift pro football to new heights of popularity.
Some football players say they were never told they had broken legs or ankles and were instead fed pills to mask the pain. One says that instead of surgery, he was given anti-inflammatory drugs and excused from practices so he could play in games. Others say that after years of free pills from the NFL, they retired addicted to the painkillers.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in Atlanta for the league’s spring meetings, said, “Our attorneys have not seen the lawsuit and obviously I have been in meetings all day.”
The lawsuit names eight players as plaintiffs, including three members of the NFL champion 1985 Chicago Bears: quarterback Jim McMahon, star defensive end Richard Dent and offensive lineman Keith Van Horne.
More than 500 other former players have signed on to the lawsuit, according to lawyers, who are seeking class-action status for the case. Six of the plaintiffs also took part in the concussion-related litigation, including McMahon and Van Horne.
McMahon says he suffered a broken neck and ankle during his career, but instead of sitting out, he received medication and was pushed back onto the field. Team doctors and trainers never told him about the injuries, according to the lawsuit.
McMahon also became addicted to painkillers, at one point taking more than 100 Percocet pills per month, even in the offseason, the lawsuit says. Team doctors and trainers illegally administered the drugs, the lawsuit alleges, because they didn’t get prescriptions, keep records or explain side effects.
Van Horne played an entire season on a broken leg and wasn’t told about the injury for five years, “during which time he was fed a constant diet of pills to deal with the pain,” the lawsuit says.
“The NFL knew of the debilitating effects of these drugs on all of its players and callously ignored the players’ long-term health in its obsession to return them to play,” said Steven Silverman, an attorney for the players. His Baltimore firm also represents former National Hockey League players in a concussion-related lawsuit.
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