NFL Sued by Former Players Who Allege Illegal Use of Painkillers to Mask Injury

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2014

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Updates from Wednesday, June 4

The Associated Press (via ESPN) reported that more players have joined the lawsuit against the NFL regarding the use of painkillers:

Former Pro Bowl defender Marcellus Wiley added his name to a lawsuit accusing NFL teams of illegally dispensing powerful narcotics and other drugs to keep players on the field without regard for their long-term health.

"The first thing people ask is, knowing what happened, would you do it again?" said Wiley, currently an ESPN analyst. "No. No I wouldn't."

The lawsuit was originally filed May 20 in U.S. District Court in northern California and amended Wednesday to add 250 more players, bringing the total to 750 plaintiffs. Wiley, who played in Buffalo, San Diego, Dallas and Jacksonville from 1997-2006, is the ninth player identified by name, joining former Chicago Bears Jim McMahon, Richard Dent and Keith Van Horne, Jeremy Newberry and others.

Original Text

The NFL is once again under fire from former players, as a group filed a lawsuit Tuesday related to illegal painkiller usage, per Ben Nuckols of The Associated Press.   

According to the report, the suit alleges that the league is responsible for illegally issuing medication to players without prescription in an effort to speed up their recovery and get them back in the field. That, in turn, is alleged to have caused further health issues after the players' careers came to an end.

The lawsuit names eight retired NFL players, including former Chicago Bears Richard Dent, Keith Van Horne and Jim McMahon, as well as ex-San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Jeremy Newberry and Buffalo Bills wide receiver J.D. Hill.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorney Steve Silverman, who claims that the NFL was aware of the potential negative effects that painkiller usage could have on NFL players down the line.

"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.

Hill added that painkiller addiction essentially ruined his life after his time in the NFL.

"I was provided uppers, downers, painkillers, you name it while in the NFL," Hill said. "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."

This may just be the tip of the iceberg for the NFL, however, as even more former players are looking to sue as well, according to Nuckols:

Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reached out to the league, but it has so far refused to comment on the lawsuit:

The league has become quite familiar with these situations in recent years and is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with former players regarding concussions.

McMahon was part of a different lawsuit against the NFL over their handling of concussions, and following the settlement between the two parties, the former Bears quarterback spoke to Dan Patrick (via Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk) about the health of former players and the medical care he and his teammates received during his playing career:

"All these guys who are suffering along with me are going to get some relief," McMahon said. "A lot of these guys are a lot worse off than I am."

McMahon said he’s enjoying retirement, and he doesn’t sound like he has many regrets. But McMahon still believes that when he was playing, team doctors were more interested in helping teams win games than they were in taking care of players. And McMahon still believes that some of his former teammates have suffered because of that inadequate medical care.

"I don’t think they were looking out for our best interests, that’s for sure," McMahon said of team doctors.

The NFL runs such a lucrative business that it can afford to pay up if it needs to, but repeated lawsuits are going to hurt the bottom line eventually. There's no doubt these matters are tarnishing the league's image as well.

It will be interesting to see how the league handles this in relation to the concussion lawsuit. The NFL was able to claim ignorance in terms of concussion effects since they have only recently become public knowledge, and perhaps the NFL will have a similar stance when it comes to painkillers.

Both sides deserve to have their day in court, but a settlement of some kind appears likely. The NFL is locked in battles on several different fronts, and it won't be easy to appease everyone.

Former players want what they believe they have coming to them, and that movement will only continue to grow. The show will go on and the NFL will continue to be the most successful sports league in the United States, but it will also be marred by litigation for the foreseeable future.

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