WASHINGTON (AP) — A group of retired professional American football players says in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the National Football League, thirsty for profits, illegally supplied them with risky narcotics and other painkillers that numbed their injuries for games and led to medical complications down the road.
The league obtained and administered the drugs illegally, without prescriptions and without warning players of their potential side effects, to speed the return of injured players to the field and maximize profits, the lawsuit alleges. Players say they were never told about broken legs and ankles and instead were fed pills to mask the pain. One says that instead of surgery, he was given anti-inflammatories and skipped practices so he could play in money-making games. And others say that after years of free pills from the NFL, they retired from the league addicted to the painkillers.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, in Atlanta for the league’s spring meetings, said: “We have not seen the lawsuit and our attorneys have not had an opportunity to review it.”
The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, and a copy was shared with The Associated Press ahead of the filing.
The complaint names eight players, including three members of the 1985 champion Chicago Bears: star defensive end Richard Dent, offensive lineman Keith Van Horne, and quarterback Jim McMahon. Lawyers seek class-action status, and they say in the filing that more than 400 other former players have signed on to the lawsuit.
McMahon says in the lawsuit that he suffered a broken neck and ankle during his career but rather than sitting out, he received medications and was pushed back on to the field. Team doctors and trainers never told him about the injuries, according to the lawsuit.
McMahon also became addicted to painkillers. Team-employed 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 lawsuit follows a landmark case that accused the league of concealing known risks from players’ concussions. The NFL settled that case for $765 million. No blame was assessed and players received no punitive damages.
Among the eight named plaintiffs, six were also plaintiffs in concussion-related litigation, including McMahon and Van Horne.
The latest lawsuit seeks an injunction creating an NFL-funded testing and monitoring program to help prevent addiction and injuries and disabilities related to the use of painkillers. It also seeks unspecified financial damages.
“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,” Silverman said. His Baltimore firm, Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin and White, also represents former National Hockey League players in a concussion-related lawsuit.
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