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Ex-players: NFL illegally used drugs to mask injuries


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Opening another legal attack on the NFL over the long-term health of its athletes, a group of retired players accused the league in a lawsuit Tuesday of cynically supplying them with powerful painkillers and other drugs that kept them in the game but led to serious complications down the road.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages on behalf of more than 500 ex-athletes, charges the NFL with chasing profits over protecting its players' health.

To speed injured athletes' return to the field, team doctors and trainers administered drugs illegally, without obtaining prescriptions or warning of the possible side effects, the plaintiffs contend.

Some football players said they were never told they had broken bones and were instead fed pills to mask the pain. One said that instead of surgery, he was given anti-inflammatory drugs and excused from practices so he could play in games. Others said that after years of free pills from the NFL, they retired addicted to the painkillers.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, in Atlanta for the league's spring meetings, said: "We have not seen the lawsuit, and our attorneys have not had an opportunity to review it."

The case comes less than a year after the NFL agreed to pay $765 million to settle lawsuits from thousands of retired players who accused it of concealing the risks of concussions. A judge has yet to approve the settlement, expressing concern the amount is too small.

The athletes in the concussion case blamed dementia and other health problems on the bone-crushing hits that helped lift pro football to new heights of popularity.

The new lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Francisco and names eight players as plaintiffs, including three members of the NFL champion 1985 Chicago Bears: quarterback Jim McMahon, Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent and offensive lineman Keith Van Horne.

More than 500 other former players have signed on to the lawsuit, according to lawyers, who are seeking class-action status for the case. Six of the plaintiffs also took part in the concussion-related litigation, including McMahon and Van Horne.

According to the lawsuit, players were routinely given cocktails of drugs that included narcotic painkillers Percodan, Percocet and Vicodin, anti-inflammatories such as Toradol, and sleep aids such as Ambien.

Toradol, which can be injected, was described as "the current game-day drug of choice of the NFL." The medication can raise the risk of heart attack, stroke or intestinal bleeding.

After receiving numbing injections and pills before games, players got more drugs and sleep aids after games, "to be washed down by beer," the lawsuit says.

Kyle Turley, who played for four teams in his eight-year career, said drugs were "handed out to us like candy."

"There was a room set up near the locker room and you got in line," Turley said. "Obviously, we were grown adults and we had a choice. But when a team doctor is saying this will take the pain away, you trust them."

McMahon said he suffered a broken neck and ankle during his career, but instead of sitting out, he received medication and was pushed back onto the field. Team doctors and trainers never told him about the injuries, according to the lawsuit.

McMahon also became addicted to painkillers, at one point taking more than 100 Percocet pills per month, even in the offseason, the lawsuit says.

Van Horne played an entire season on a broken leg and wasn't told about the injury for five years, "during which time he was fed a constant diet of pills to deal with the pain," the lawsuit says.

"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," said Steven Silverman, an attorney for the players. His Baltimore firm also represents former National Hockey League players in a concussion-related lawsuit.

Former offensive lineman Jeremy Newberry retired in 2009 and said that because of the drugs he took while playing, he suffers from kidney failure, high blood pressure and violent headaches.

On game days, Newberry said, he and up to 25 of his San Francisco 49ers teammates would retreat to the locker room to receive Toradol injections in the buttocks 10 minutes before kickoff. The drug numbed the pain almost instantaneously.

"The stuff works, it works like crazy. It really does. There were whole seasons when I was in a walking boot and crutches," Newberry said in an interview. "I would literally crutch into the facility and sprint out of the tunnel to go play."

Newberry said he never considered not taking the drugs because he knew he'd be out of a job if he didn't play hurt, and the only side effect he was warned about was bruising. He said he could tell which players on the opposing team had used Toradol because of the bloodstains on their pants.

After he retired, Newberry said, he saw a specialist who reviewed his medical records and found that for years, the protein levels in his urine had been elevated, a precursor to kidney problems. Newberry said he got blood work during a team-sponsored physical every year but was never told about any problems.

"They said, `You're good to go, you passed another one. You're cleared to play,'" Newberry said.


Associated Press sports writers Barry Wilner in Atlanta and Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report.

NFL Players: League Illegally Supplied Risky Painkillers To Mask Injuries

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tmccull52 May 20 2014 at 1:28 PM

You roll your dice, you take your chances. It's not like any of these former players didn't kknow what they were getting into. Football is a violent sport. That's like signing up for a boxing match and saying, "Jeepers! I didn't know that someone was going to hit me!" afterwards.

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32 replies
buddwhyzr May 20 2014 at 1:58 PM

You guys did whatever it took to stay on the field. You all eagerly stood in line for your doses. You all sound like smokers who after 30 yrs blame the tobacco companies.

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10 replies
MEL BENNETT May 20 2014 at 1:46 PM

with the money they get paid they could of gotten a second opinion outside the locker rooms on injuries, yes I can see the NFL giving pain killers to help them play more, but to actually blame it on the NFL for years of abuse, NO get a second opinion, and move on, get put on the injury list, most of the players chose to stay active for bigger and better contract down the road. so its not the NFL problem its a problem with high bonuses to always play, and the multi million dollar contracts and trades. its all about money in the first place not the NFL fault, but yes things need to change,

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10 replies
sbamasam May 20 2014 at 1:44 PM

100 Percocet pills per month, thats only 3 or so a day, i know people with back problems that take more.

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15 replies
Mike May 20 2014 at 1:58 PM

Most football players have only two options: play football for millions or flip burgers at McDonald's.

Flag Reply +54 rate up
15 replies
junior May 20 2014 at 1:42 PM

What's the matter Jim? You broke? Not in the limelight anymore? Ranting now instead of then? Didn't seem to mind when you were on top of the world and now your wasted life is everyone's fault but yours? Go back in your hole where you belong.

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8 replies
toothfarm May 20 2014 at 1:22 PM

just looking for money

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3 replies
romag46 May 20 2014 at 1:53 PM

I believe their story....it's all about the money ! Money has ruined sports...the medical system....entertainment....you name it . And when they're through with you...move on and get over it ! They need to be held accountable . Look at Elvis Presley.....he was a great entertainer, then went to Vegas and with that lifestyle of up all night entertaining...trying to sleep during the day...led to uppers and downers. Ultimately drugs that killed him, prescribed by his doctor. I know its a personal choice for many but sometimes the situation pulls them in just to be able to keep up . It's sad.

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13 replies
Bob Leasure May 20 2014 at 1:41 PM

I agree with the players, it's not about the sport it's all about money. The owners pay a lot of money for the players and they are going to use them any way they can to win more games and make more money. There is no incentive for the owners or the NFL to allow players to sit out games due to injuries. They should have lifetime free insurance for all NFL players when they retire.

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11 replies
lobowolf May 20 2014 at 1:35 PM

Sounds like Nick Nolte in North Dallas Forty - quite the revealing movie!

Flag Reply +28 rate up
4 replies
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