The NFL is heading down another road littered with legal issues. A class-action lawsuit filed on Tuesday in San Francisco federal court by eight former players alleges the league illegally gave them narcotics and additional painkillers, prompting addiction and wide-ranging medical complications.
This new development may actually push the still-unsettled, $765 million concussion lawsuit on the backburner. And it definitely begs the question: Was the distribution of painkillers to players a widespread practice years ago, or did certain franchises go to extremes?
Per Nancy Armour of USA Today, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello has yet to see the latest lawsuit. The same goes for the league’s lawyers. In any event, the win-at-all-costs mentality valued on the field seems to be coming back to haunt the NFL. More and more former players continue to speak out on sketchy medical practices in the past. Tuesday’s suit, headlined by former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon and ex-wide receiver J.D. Hill, claims that clubs exposed their stars to long-term damage in order to rush them back for practice and game day.
Many would say these players knew better, that they should have been somewhat responsible for what entered their bodies. According to lead attorney Steve Silverman, however, team doctors and trainers pushed items that were “handed out like candy at Halloween.” The list of narcotics, anti-inflammatories and local anesthetics reads like a pharmacy’s wish list: Toradol, Percocet, Vicodin, Ambien, Prednisone and Lidocaine. The eight players estimate they were given “hundreds, if not thousands” of injections and pills over the years. They cite kidney failure, addictions to a number of painkillers and much more.
Those were the days, of course, when the league seemed like the wild, wild West. In addition to painkillers being guzzled like M&Ms, steroids became heavily abused. It reached the point where mandatory testing went into effect, agreed upon by both the NFL and NFLPA and cemented in the bylaws of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
The cautionary tales, though, never went away. Defensive back Kenny Easley was a Pro Bowler, NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a member of the 1980’s All-Decade Team and outstanding performer for the Seattle Seahawks. His career was also cut short because of kidney failure. Easley sued the Seahawks, as well as the team’s medical staff, on the grounds that he overdose on Ibuprofen (Advil) to treat an ankle injury. He reportedly took up to 20 Advil tablets daily for more than three months in hopes of reducing swelling.
Today, clubs lock up all drugs. Head trainers are asked to list who received what type of medication, quantity, date, time, etc. Back in Easley’s era, though, his former teammates said that Advil and other medications were placed in large dispensers in the locker room – with no medical supervision. (Easley eventually received a new kidney and settled his lawsuit out of court.)
It’s only a matter of time before the NFL powers digest everything regarding their newest legal battle. Eight former players brought this issue to the forefront, but the case may end up involving more than 500. Another black eye has surfaced, and the horrific stories told by these plaintiffs won’t soon leave the minds of fans, let alone current players who face many of the same pressures to help secure that Lombardi Trophy.