NFL Players Accuse the League of Overdoing it With Painkillers. Again.

Credit: Tim Robberts / Getty Images

On February 22, 1,800 former NFL players filed a lawsuit alleging their teams illegally administered painkillers and other prescription drugs, resulting in damage to organs and joints (not to mention budding addictions). The details of that suit, available to read after Deadspin acquired the unredacted document, are hardly surprising: unaccounted-for pills; double and contraindicated doses; failure to mention potential risks (or according to one witness, to say what the drugs were); complicity between team doctors and trainers to allow trainers to inject and dispense at their own discretion; and systematic subversion of DEA inspections (eventually, following a series of post-game raids in 2014, teams were allegedly tipped-off to raids by a DEA employee).

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Fox Business that the suit’s claims were “meritless.” 

This was the third such filing of its kind in the past three years. A 2014 suit involving 1,300 players was dismissed by federal judge William Alsup of Northern California on the grounds that the care of injuries fell under the purview of the collective bargaining agreement. But after a similar, smaller suit was filed in Maryland, they were both kicked back to Alsup’s bench, where last summer he allowed them to proceed in the current form.

It looks like this time the suit may have traction for a settlement — so long as the NFL, as in the concussion class action case, is able to “admit no wrongdoing.” As with concussions, the story has been around for a long time, anecdotally, but had to be pushed out in the open through legal means.

In the November 2012 issue of Men’s Journal, Paul Solotaroff detailed the teams’ freewheeling attitude toward painkillers, with testimony from dozens of players, including Bears great Richard Dent, a named plaintiff in both the 2014 and the current suit. Then, as now, the league issued a denial, with NFL senior VP Adolpho Birch claiming that “every pill is accounted for,” touting rigorous outside audits, and going so far as to add a mention of the league’s narcotics testing program. The paragraph that followed is the NFL in an absurd, horrifying nutshell (emphasis ours):

The players we spoke to burst out laughing at Birch's comments, particularly in response to being tested. "Test for narcotics! There would be no one to play — they'd have to suit the ball boys up," says [former QB Ray] Lucas. "Do we know that our players are seeking meds, both before and after games?" says DeMaurice Smith, the union chief. "Yes, we've done our own internal surveys. But when we spoke to the league about the bucket-of-pills problem, its response to us was nothing, no new proposal. In fact, when we demanded that they get informed consent before injecting guys with Toradol [a powerful anti-inflammatory that can cause kidney damage], they said they'd only do so if players signed a waiver holding them harmless in future lawsuits."

And here we are.