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Former NFL Players Sue League for Pushing Drugs
May 20, 2014 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Eight former National Football League players have filed a class-action suit against the NFL for illegally pumping them full of painkillers and other drugs to keep them playing.

The eight players range from Ron Pritchard, who started playing for the Houston Oilers in 1969, to Jeremy Newberry, who last played for the San Diego Chargers in 2008. Among them, the players have 13 Pro Bowl appearances, seven Super Bowl championship rings, and one membership in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Richard Dent).

The suit alleges that NFL team trainers and doctors routinely doped up players without warning them of the risks or even telling them what they were having done to them. Effects on the players include medical problems and drug addiction. J.D. Hill, who played for the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions, said in a statement, "I became addicted and turned to the streets after my career and was homeless. Never took a drug in my life, and I became a junkie in the NFL."
posted by Etrigan (52 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Maybe they were told but forgot due to brain damage?
posted by Renoroc at 11:33 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


In the world I wish I lived in, this revelation, coming on the wake of recent information about the horrific player toll of traumatic brain injuries and the seemingly-for-no-other-reason-than-because-they-can exploitation of cheerleading squad members, would cause people to turn in outrage against the legally privileged billionaire oligopolists who control professional sport in this country.

Meanwhile, back in the world I actually live in, I expect the plaintiffs to be dismissed as losers, has-beens, junkies, and shake-down artists who are trying to destroy a noble American institution, in spite of the fact that virtually nobody will be greatly surprised by these allegations.
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:34 AM on May 20 [29 favorites]


It's sad, but as someone currently dealing with a painkiller addict of advancing age in his life, I'm a little happy that people are starting to realize that "drugs" doesn't always equal pot/cocaine/heroine. They can also be the stuff your doctor has prescribed for you, with sometimes horrifically worse and life altering consequences. Just because the doctor gave them to you doesn't mean they can't be abused.
posted by Big_B at 11:35 AM on May 20 [4 favorites]


Oh, and one other thing.. The headline on the linked article reads "Retired Stars File Suit Alleging NFL Doped Them Up Like Race Horses."

The simile is inapt, as there's a very good chance you'd get kicked out of racing if you were caught treating horses similarly.
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:41 AM on May 20 [8 favorites]


Next we're going to hear that professional cyclists were doping! Sorry to be so cynical, but it's not exactly a surprise, is it? I guess the surprise is that the players went along with this kind of abuse for so long but are now willing to tell stories.
posted by Nelson at 11:47 AM on May 20


I am not a sports fan, which means for some reason most people ignore my opinions on these things.

But stuff like this makes me think it's time to nuke the NFL from orbit and start over with something sane. Like soccer or rugby.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:49 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


Next we're going to hear that professional cyclists were doping! Sorry to be so cynical, but it's not exactly a surprise, is it? I guess the surprise is that the players went along with this kind of abuse for so long but are now willing to tell stories.

They were being given drugs by physicians who were employees of the team. I don't see how the behavior of these physicians was anything less than negligent, and I don't see how the teams can be anything but responsible for that negligence. From the article:
For example, named Plaintiff Keith Van Horne was prescribed Percodan by a physician with no affiliation to the NFL after a foot or ankle injury. Days later, the Chicago Bears' Head Trainer Fred Caito called Van Horne into this office. Caito proceeded to lambast him for obtaining the Percodan because it led the Drug Enforcement Agency to issue a letter to the Bears inquiring why Van Horne was obtaining Schedule II medications.

When Van Horne told Caito that a physician had prescribed the drug, Caito responded that was not the problem. The problem was that the Bears ordered painkillers before the season started under players' names, including Van Horne's. Van Horne had thus put Caito in a bad spot by obtaining the Percodan because there were already DEA records that hundreds of painkillers had been ordered in Van Horne's name, even though Van Horne had no need for the medications the Bears had ordered at the time the order was placed.
Also, did you read the allegation that team doctors concealed from McMahon the fact that he had a broken neck? You cannot expect the players to be responsible for their own medical care: they had every reason to believe that the medical care being provided by their employers was of acceptable quality. However, it appears that it was wildly negligent.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:00 PM on May 20 [42 favorites]


I actually think that the negative publicity baggage the NFL's been picking up in the past few years may actually kill (or cripple) the league, if only because it would please the Gods of Irony for the league to go down right after the Vikings finally get their ridiculous new stadium.
posted by COBRA! at 12:01 PM on May 20 [4 favorites]


In the world I wish I lived in, this revelation, coming on the wake of recent information about the horrific player toll of traumatic brain injuries and the seemingly-for-no-other-reason-than-because-they-can exploitation of cheerleading squad members, would cause people to turn in outrage against the legally privileged billionaire oligopolists who control professional sport in this country.

I try my best to make it *that* kind of world, but people then dismiss people like me as a crank. I just don't give up and until my last breath, I make certain I never enable or support lies and shams like that, though it is a lonely enterprise...so be it...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 12:02 PM on May 20


"My Injury File: How I Shot, Smoked, And Screwed My Way Through The NFL"

I read this a few months ago and found it fascinating. The guy's entire career was a string of serious injuries, with constant pressure to keep playing and never having enough time to fully recover, leading to constant use of painkillers.
Chargers, Week 5. My first NFL start, two weeks after my first career touchdown. "Get yourselves warmed back up when you get back on the field," our special teams coach Scotty O. was saying. "It's getting chilly out there. You don't want to get tight!" He was offering a bit of halftime advice I wasn't listening to. I was already warmed up. I wasn't worried. Sure, there was that tiny click I felt in my left groin near the end of the first half. But I felt fine.

I had the needle to thank for that. After meetings the night before, I'd lined up for my shot: 60 milligrams of Toradol, a powerful anti-inflammatory and painkiller. A handful of us relied on it every game. We lived in pain during the week. We wanted relief on game day, and we didn't trust adrenaline alone to give it to us. Toradol did the trick, on the eve of the battle, so we could sleep soundly and wake up pain-free.

After jogging out of the tunnel again and drinking some sideline Gatorade, we lined up for the second-half kick-off. The ball popped off the tee and all 10 of us tore off down the field. Twenty yards into my straight-line sprint, a sniper somewhere in the cheap cheats popped one off and hit me square in the left groin, tearing the muscle off the bone with a yank that rattled the iron off of heaven's gate. THWAP!
posted by jjwiseman at 12:06 PM on May 20 [3 favorites]




When is the follow up suit for high schools and colleges?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:10 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


You cannot expect the players to be responsible for their own medical care: they had every reason to believe that the medical care being provided by their employers was of acceptable quality.

Somewhere in San Diego this guy chortled at your comment while driving drunk on his way to an opium den.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 12:20 PM on May 20


How do you conceal a broken neck? Wtf? I'm gonna go RTFA and hope that's in there.

I would think if your neck is broken your head wouldn't stay up.
posted by sio42 at 12:24 PM on May 20


How do you conceal a broken neck?

Named Plaintiff Jim McMahon discovered for the first time in 2011 or 2012 that he had suffered a broken neck at some point in his career. He believes it happened during a 1993 playoff game when, after a hit, his legs went numb. Rather than sit out, he received medications and was pushed back on the field.

McMahon has spent probably the past 10 years as a drunken trainwreck so it's hard to say whether or not this was the result of an NFL injury or some other tomfoolery. The best these guys can hope for is that the medical waiver they signed back in the day isn't legally enforceable.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 12:29 PM on May 20


Could be like a hairline fracture in a cervical vertebrae.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:29 PM on May 20


I actually think that the negative publicity baggage the NFL's been picking up in the past few years may actually kill (or cripple) the league

The NFL is the most amazing marketing force in the world. Somehow, it has this wholesome image as America's game, yet:
1. NFL players regularly make racist and homophobic comments in the media
2. NFL players are regularly involved in felonies and other crimes
3. NFL coaches have paid bounties for players to injury other players, which brings bad sportsmanship to a new level
4. The league itself hid information about the medical effect of concussions from players
5. The league is masterful at raiding public coffers to get stadium up-grades, at the expense of other public work projects.

Few other corporations could survive such a list, but the NFL has not only shrugged all that all off with no effect, if anything they feed off it. There are people actually cheering for Aaron Hernandez.

Cultures develop sports and entertain that reflect the culture. The NFL is America.
posted by Flood at 12:31 PM on May 20 [11 favorites]


suffered a broken neck at some point in his career

I wonder what point that might have been?

Incidentally, Charles Martin, the player that put that hit on McMahon died at age 45 of renal failure.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:33 PM on May 20


If the players didn't know what they were getting into then there could be trouble, but I'm not sure how easy that is to establish. Some players are known to actually know the potential repercussions and still insist on playing. I always think of Ryan Kesler asking the doctors to cut his finger off so he could get back in the game. In cases like that, it's an instance of a guy doing something he knows the risks of and can't really hold anyone else responsible. That said, the NFL as an organization has been pretty fucking bad to its players so who knows.
posted by Hoopo at 12:35 PM on May 20


I read an article that said that the docs didn't even keep a record of how many or what painkillers were given when. That's just stupid. Totally infuriating.
posted by discopolo at 12:42 PM on May 20


Notice that the team didn't cut Ryan Kesler's finger off though, because that would have been wildly irresponsible. A lot of the other things the teams are alleged to have done in these complaints are also wildly irresponsible. The medical staff of an NFL team has a responsibility for the health of the players.
posted by chrchr at 12:48 PM on May 20


Notice that the team didn't cut Ryan Kesler's finger off though, because that would have been wildly irresponsible.

Ronnie Lott had a fingertip amputated rather than miss playing time recovering from bone graft surgery. Picture.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:05 PM on May 20 [2 favorites]


You can't do much about the mechanisms of Big Sports money currently in place, but there is the fact that parents are already starting to balk at putting their kids into football due to threats of brain injury. Now we hear that your kid, if he makes it big, might also end up drug-addicted and with a broken body. Superbowl glory is great, but...great enough to put your kid in that meat grinder?

Without kids playing, you don't get high schoolers and college players.

Of course, I fully expect the solution to be importing kids from other countries less concerned for their welfare, (and poor kids from right here, of course) framed as a heartwarming desire to give them a shot at fame and fortune in America. The question is whether US fans will go for that and keep watching.

Professional sports seems to have the ongoing problem that it generates vast amounts of money for those who market it (and a few of the players) and so introduces a conflict of interest right at the beginning, in terms of valuing the risk and health of players. It's profitable to be able to use up people like kleenex to keep your franchise winning. Not so much to treat them ethically.
posted by emjaybee at 1:07 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


I read an article that said that the docs didn't even keep a record of how many or what painkillers were given when. That's just stupid. Totally infuriating.

Or a blatant attempt to evade criminal responsibility. No paper trail makes it harder to prosecute.
posted by emjaybee at 1:08 PM on May 20 [4 favorites]


Of course, I fully expect the solution to be importing kids from other countries less concerned for their welfare, (and poor kids from right here, of course) framed as a heartwarming desire to give them a shot at fame and fortune in America. The question is whether US fans will go for that and keep watching.

We stopped watching boxing. We'll stop watching football. Both sports will at their new, smaller scales continue chewing up and spitting out poor young men without other options, but just as boxing lost its place in our cultural imagination, so will football.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:25 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


We stopped watching boxing.

Who's this "we"?
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:30 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


just as boxing lost its place in our cultural imagination, so will football.

You realize MMA replaced boxing, right?
posted by playertobenamedlater at 1:32 PM on May 20 [5 favorites]


sio42: I would think if your neck is broken your head wouldn't stay up.
I'm going to go out on a limb here, and guess that you aren't medically trained.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:34 PM on May 20 [11 favorites]


If the players didn't know what they were getting into then there could be trouble, but I'm not sure how easy that is to establish.

People in all jobs have an incentive to perform well. If a construction firm allows workers to disregard safety protocols that interfere with productivity, the firm is liable when the workers do so.

Just because the players know what they're getting into doesn't make it legal.
posted by aubilenon at 1:40 PM on May 20 [4 favorites]


just as boxing lost its place in our cultural imagination, so will football.

You realize MMA replaced boxing, right?


MMA is nowhere near as popular as boxing was back in mid-20th Century America. Boxing then was where football is now.
posted by Etrigan at 1:51 PM on May 20 [3 favorites]


mr_roboto: "Also, did you read the allegation that team doctors concealed from McMahon the fact that he had a broken neck? "

playertobenamedlater: "McMahon has spent probably the past 10 years as a drunken trainwreck so it's hard to say whether or not this was the result of an NFL injury or some other tomfoolery."

Jim McMahon actually lived in my hometown later in his career and after retiring. Even little kids who (reverently) trick-or-treated at his house years and years ago could tell there was something not quite right. It wasn't spoken of very openly, but everybody knew his (now ex-)wife blamed football and the hits he took for his somewhat uncertain temperament, his drinking, and (later) his memory problems ... not to mention his physical aches and pains that were sometimes crippling. They were really a very nice family (McMahon had a reputation as a jackass but in town he was a quiet and private man, and very nice to little boys who idolized him, but mostly his wife was the one who was out and about doing things), but even as a little kid I understood he was ... I guess I knew that he was "dark"? Like he'd been through some stuff, suffered, wasn't coping with it great, and didn't want to talk about it (if one were to happen to run into him at a school event, say) ... it's just that the stuff he went through was "being a Superbowl-winning quarterback idolized by an entire city."

But yeah, even as an adolescent I understood that the Jim McMahon I idolized (like everyone else!) was not really the same Jim McMahon who lived in town, and that somehow the Idol Jim McMahon had caused the (periodic) torment of the Real Jim McMahon, and that it wasn't polite to speak of it. I also had the edges of the idea that someone could be really bitter that achieving a dream turned out be so sour.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:55 PM on May 20 [13 favorites]


This is still an ongoing issue in big-time college football, too.

Right now, a former player, Armond Armstead, is in the process of suing my alma mater, USC. He claims that he was injected with Toradol, a strong painkiller, during a number of games in 2010. He later had a heart attack that season, and his NCAA career was over (and his chance at an NFL career was severely hampered).

ABC did a pretty scathing report on the issue, and uncovered the fact that similar practices are happening in dozens of big-time NCAA football programs.

As much of a college football fan as I am, it's really unsettling to know that team doctors are not educating athletes about the consequences of taking such strong medications.

It's not just the NFL.
posted by Old Man McKay at 2:02 PM on May 20 [4 favorites]


I would think if your neck is broken your head wouldn't stay up.

Bert Trautmann has something to say about that.

"Trautmann entered football folklore with his performance in the 1956 FA (Football Association) Cup Final. With 17 minutes of the match remaining, Trautmann suffered a serious injury while diving at the feet of Birmingham City's Peter Murphy. Despite his injury, he continued to play, making crucial saves to preserve his team's 3–1 lead. His neck was noticeably crooked as he collected his winner's medal; three days later an X-ray revealed it to be broken."
posted by srboisvert at 2:02 PM on May 20 [2 favorites]


Next we're going to hear that professional cyclists were doping!


Yes, and Armstrong, Ferrari, and Bruyneel (among others) now have lifetime bans, and US Postal/Discovery/Tailwind is no longer an entity in UCI cycling (not to mention Phonak, Festina and TVM).

I look forward to a similarly robust response from the NFL.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:34 PM on May 20 [3 favorites]


I look forward to the Oxycontin/Toradol bowl.
posted by telstar at 2:38 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


I guess all those people who actually need painkillers but can't have them know what they need to do now.
posted by bleep at 2:44 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


I keep reading stories about the DEA busting doctors who prescribe medication who are suffering from chronic pain...

I'm just wondering where the DEA is on this.

(crickets)
posted by el io at 3:08 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


I'm just wondering where the DEA is on this.

You know where they were. Box seats.
posted by srboisvert at 3:12 PM on May 20 [8 favorites]


I am shocked — shocked— to find that gambling is going on in here!
posted by markkraft at 3:29 PM on May 20 [4 favorites]


In related news, Josh Gordon, 2013's leading NFL receiver, is facing a 1 year suspension for a positive drug test (marijuana), coupled with a positive test for codeine prior.
posted by peterjoshua at 4:21 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


(background music: world's tiniest violin)

They knew what they were signing up for: a job with an almost 100% certainty of retirement due to injury. They already knew about chronic pain.

Just shut down the game, at all levels from kids to the NFL. Ban it. It's more deadly than Lawn Darts.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:37 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


Money trumps everything. The only way to change anything is to make the money dry up.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:39 PM on May 20


sio42: I would think if your neck is broken your head wouldn't stay up.
I'm going to go out on a limb here, and guess that you aren't medically trained.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:34 PM on May 20


It could be a very short limb. ;-)
posted by sio42 at 5:53 AM on May 21 [2 favorites]


Man, this sort of thing really makes me so torn about football.

I totally get Eyebrow's comment. The more I learn about football and the money and this sort of thing, the more I feel deceived by a national past time. It really sucks. Troy Polamalu is a great guy and an amazing player. I would absolutely hate to see him end up a depressed, pain-ridden man with alcohol or drug problems as he tries to cope with whatever body and brain injuries he's most likely endured.

Guess it's time to start getting into soccer or chess or something where people aren't risking brain damage so I can have something to watch while I do laundry and houseclean over the fall and winter.
posted by sio42 at 6:05 AM on May 21


It's more deadly than Lawn Darts.

You must be playing Lawn Darts wrong!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:48 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Man, this sort of thing really makes me so torn about football.

Don't worry, a handfull of percocet and you'll just walk that tear off and get right back into the game.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:50 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


"It's more deadly than Lawn Darts."

If lawn darts were as widely seen, competitive, and lucrative as the NFL, they'd be tipped with depleted uranium, barbed so that they cannot be easily removed, and fly at your head at 220 mph. Oh, and exceptional, long-distance hits would explode upon impact.
posted by markkraft at 8:58 AM on May 21


"Don't worry, a handfull of percocet and you'll just walk that tear off and get right back into the game."

Pshaw. This is the NFL we are talking about here. Take only the drugs that they have prescribed to you!
posted by markkraft at 9:04 AM on May 21


markkraft: If lawn darts were as widely seen, competitive, and lucrative as the NFL, they'd be tipped with depleted uranium, barbed so that they cannot be easily removed, and fly at your head at 220 mph. Oh, and exceptional, long-distance hits would explode upon impact.

I WOULD TOTALLY WATCH THA... that would be wrong.

I might accidentally see it for an hour or two while flipping channels.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:13 AM on May 21


How do you conceal a broken neck?

Buster Keaton famously broke his neck in the water tank scene of 'Sherlock, Jr.' and only learned about it years later when a doctor took some routine (!) x-rays.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:01 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Another anecdotal data point: my elderly mother fell and broke her leg at a nature preserve in Ireland only to find out after x-rays that she had only rebroken a fairly recently broken leg that she'd been walking around on for years and treating with nothing more than a couple of Tylenols and a good soak in the tub.

Note: My mother is certainly not a trained athlete, though she did give birth to a rather large baby without drugs in summer in an open-air hospital in Iran while the gardener's donkey watched, so maybe she does have some sort of nerve issues.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:06 PM on May 21


Or maybe she's just a badass motherfucker.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:51 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


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