On May 20, 2014, 8 former NFL players filed a lawsuit against the National Football League in San Francisco U.S. District Court, alleging that the league illegally and deceptively plied them with painkillers during their playing careers to get them back on the field when they had in fact suffered serious injuries. The plaintiffs, who include former ’85 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bear players Jim McMahon, Richard Dent and Keith Van Horne, claim that they unknowingly played with broken bones and other serious injuries. Now, they contend that they suffer from addiction and other serious health issues due to the deceptive practices of the NFL. In an interview on the Today Show with Matt Lauer on May 22, 2014, two other plaintiffs, including Buffalo Bills wide receiver J.D. Hill, stated that team doctors would walk through planes and locker rooms prior to games with suitcases full of painkillers and muscle relaxers and provide whatever players wanted, with no mention of side effects, contraindications or long term effects such as addiction. Hill also noted that the painkiller addiction had ruined his life, and ironically stated: “I was provided uppers, downers, painkillers, you name it while in the NFL. I became addicted and turned to the street after my career and was homeless. Never took a drug in my life, and I became a junkie in the NFL.”
The painkiller lawsuit comes on the heels of a huge class action by 4000 former players claiming that they had suffered undiagnosed and concealed concussions during their NFL careers, which led to long term devastating effects including brain damage, loss of memory, depression and an inability to function in society, with several notable suicides, most recently Junior Seau, a star linebacker for many teams including the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins. The concussion lawsuit was ostensibly settled for 765 million dollars a few months ago, but was rejected by U.S. District Court Judge Anita Brody, who determined that the amount was not sufficient to cover the long term damages of the affected players.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs are trying to obtain class action status and claim that there as many as 500 plaintiffs ready to sue if class action status is granted by the federal Court. Six of the players in the painkiller lawsuit are also plaintiffs in the concussion lawsuit, including Jim McMahon and Keith Van Horne. In the case of McMahon, who was the quarterback of the “Super Bowl Shuffle” ’85 Champion Bears, he was well known for seeking out contact with defensive linemen, and would often head butt opposing players. Thus, it is not surprising that McMahon suffered injuries including a broken neck during his playing career; it is astonishing that injuries of this nature went undiagnosed or that McMahon was cleared to play with them. The lawsuit seeks an undeclared amount of damages for the players’ injuries, and an injunction to establish a NFL funded program to assist current and past players with addiction, injuries and permanent disability attributable to the use of painkillers.
In response to the allegations in the painkiller lawsuit, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell claimed that he was in meetings and had “not had an opportunity to read the papers” and stated that it was in the hands of the NFL’s attorneys.