SBD/May 21, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Faces New Lawsuit From Former Players, Alleging League Pushed Painkillers

Dent is one of eight players that filed the suit yesterday in federal court
A group of retired NFLers has opened "another legal attack" on the league over the long-term health of its athletes, accusing the NFL of "cynically supplying them with powerful painkillers and other drugs that kept them in the game but led to serious complications later in life," according to Ben Nuckols of the AP. The case comes less than a year after the NFL agreed to pay $765M to "settle lawsuits from thousands of retired players who accused it of concealing the risks of concussions." The new suit, filed yesterday in federal court in S.F., names eight players as plaintiffs, including Jim McMahon, Richard Dent and Keith Van Horne. Lawyers, who are "seeking class-action status for the case," said that "more than 500 other former players have signed on." The lawsuit alleges that as a result of "masking their pain with drugs, players developed heart, lung and nerve ailments; kidney failure; and chronic injuries to muscles, bones and ligaments." It states that players were "routinely given drugs that included narcotic painkillers Percodan, Percocet and Vicodin, anti-inflammatories such as Toradol, and sleep aids such as Ambien" (AP, 5/20). In Chicago, Dan Wiederer notes the lawsuit seeks "an injunction creating a testing and monitoring program that would be funded by the NFL to help prevent addiction, injuries and disabilities related to painkiller use." It also seeks "unspecified financial damages." McMahon in the suit contends that he "received 'hundreds if not thousands' of shots from doctors plus high volumes of pills from trainers without any warnings from the NFL on possible side effects." He also said in the suit that he "ultimately developed a harmful painkiller dependency" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/21).

HARD TO HANDLE: USA TODAY's Nancy Armour writes this lawsuit is "the one thing that could bring ruin to the NFL," but it is "too soon to say what its prospects for success are or how costly it could be" to the league. NFL Senior VP/Communications Greg Aiello said that the league "hasn't seen the lawsuit yet," and added that its attorneys "haven't had an opportunity to review it." But Armour notes there are "enough similarities to claims made in the concussion lawsuit to warrant a closer look." The eight players in the suit paint a picture of a league that "recklessly and negligently created and maintained a culture of drug misuse, substituting players' health for profit." Attorney Steve Silverman said team doctors and trainers "were handing out drugs like it was Halloween candy to mask these injuries to get these guys out on the field, to their detriment." The players said that "not once were they warned about the potential dangers." The players added that there was "a general disregard for their health." Armour writes this "won't be as easy a case as the concussion lawsuit" (USA TODAY, 5/21). SPORTSNET's Jordan Heath-Rawlings wrote, "The league can't really afford another loss. Not on this topic. Not now." This new suit is "something of a well-timed body blow." The league has "not yet officially settled the last one, and with the NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, there’s a small window in which the national football media horde will have nothing substantial to talk about." This suit gives them the "chance to resurrect and put into print all the worst things they’ve suspected about how the game is really played" (SPORTSNET.ca, 5/20).

THE SURVEY SAYS...: In DC, Rick Maese notes drugs aimed at treating pain have "long been a part of the NFL." As part of a "five-part series examining medicine in the NFL last year," the Washington Post surveyed "more than 500 former players and one in four said he felt pressure from team doctors to take medication he was uncomfortable with." Nearly nine in 10 reported "playing games while hurt, and an overwhelming number -- 68 percent -- said they did not feel like they had a choice but to take the field" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/21).

MEDIA MONITOR: The new lawsuit was the second report on this morning's editions of ABC's "GMA" and NBC's "Today," while CBS' "This Morning" led with the lawsuit. Last night's editions of ABC's "World News," CBS' "Evening News" and NBC's "Nightly News" all led with the lawsuit (THE DAILY). ABC's Robin Roberts called it a "bombshell lawsuit against the NFL." ABC's Jim Avila spoke live with the show's co-hosts, then aired a taped report. ABC legal analyst Dan Abrams then discussed the suit live in-studio, noting this lawsuit is "theoretically more dangerous to the league than the concussion case because it could encompass a lot more retired players" ("GMA," ABC, 5/21). CBS' Jim Axelrod was live in-studio and said the lawsuit "paints quite the ugly picture of an alleged drug culture inside the NFL" ("CBS This Morning," 5/21). NBC's Matt Lauer said it is a "troubling new lawsuit facing" the NFL, with NBC's Ron Mott reporting live from Foxboro ("Today," NBC, 5/21). Paul Silverman, one of the attorneys for the former players, appeared on NBC and said, "What you have in the NFL is a bunch of anesthetized gladiators … and the NFL is simply putting profit before players" ("Nightly News," NBC, 5/20).
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