The NFL’s litigation woes continue. On May 20, 2014, the league was hit with a lawsuit brought by a group of retired former players claiming that the NFL illegally supplied them with narcotics and other painkillers to mask their injuries and keep them on the playing field, intentionally ignoring the risks these drugs had on the players’ long-term health. The filing insists that the actions by team doctors and trainers were illegal because team medical personnel never obtained prescriptions, failed to keep drug records, and didn’t explain the side effects of the pills that they handed out freely.
Several of the high-profile named plaintiffs include three members of the 1985 Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears, defensive end Richard Dent, offensive lineman Keith Van Horne, and quarterback Jim McMahon. McMahon says that his playing injuries included a broken neck and ankle. However, instead of being diagnosed, removed from play, and treated, McMahon says he was given medication and pushed back into the game. This steady diet of pills made him an addict – McMahon recalls that at one point in his career he was taking over 100 Percocet painkillers every month. Van Horne made similar allegations, recalling how he played an entire season with a broken leg by relying on a steady supply of painkillers. Not only that, Van Horne states that he wasn’t informed of the injury for five whole years.
J.D. Hill, a former wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions and another named plaintiff in the suit, states that his life was destroyed by the drugs he received in the NFL. He noted, “As a player, you get all of these drugs for free over the years of your career. Then suddenly you are released and the free supply stops overnight.” Hill eventually turned to street drugs and became homeless due to his addiction, bouncing in and out of rehab centers for the next 20 years. He went on to comment, “I was provided uppers, downers, painkillers, you name it while in the NFL . . . . Never took a drug in my life, and I became a junkie in the NFL.”
To date over 500 former players have joined the class action, making it the second giant class action against the league in recent years. The complaint is seeking unspecified financial damages, and an injunction creating a NFL-funded testing and monitoring program to prevent players from becoming addicted to painkillers.
Elsewhere the NFL is still trying to wrap up settlement talks in the massive concussion litigation brought against it by 4,500+ former players, individuals who claim that the league intentionally downplayed the risks of concussive head injuries and their relation to long-term cognitive decline. Several of the plaintiffs in the painkiller suit (including 6 of the 8 lead plaintiffs) are also parties in the concussion action.