Ex-players: NFL illegally used drugs to mask injuries

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Ex-players: NFL illegally used drugs to mask injuries
LOUISIANA, NO - JANUARY 26: Jim McMahon #9 of the Chicago Bears looks on from the sidelines against New England Patriots during Super Bowl XX January 26, 1986 at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Bears won the Super Bowl 46-10. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
FILE - This Jan. 26, 1986 file photo shows Chicago Bears quarterback, Jim McMahon (9) bumping helmets with Keith Van Horne during Super Bowl XX in New Orleans. A group of retired NFL players says in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the league, thirsty for profits, illegally supplied them with risky narcotics and other painkillers that numbed their injuries for games and led to medical complications down the road. The complaint names eight players, including three members of the Super Bowl champion 1985 Chicago Bears: defensive lineman Richard Dent, offensive lineman Keith Van Horne, and quarterback Jim McMahon. Lawyers seek class-action status, and they say in the filing that more than 400 other former players have signed on to the lawsuit. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
CHICAGO - JANUARY 12: Jim McMahon #9 of the Chicago Bears looks on during the 1985 NFC Championship game against the Los Angeles Rams at Soldier Field on January 12, 1986 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Rams 24-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
FILE - In this May 13, 2008 file photo, former NFL player J.D. Hill gestures during a news conference in Chicago, where an initiative was announced that would help retired NFL players in dire need of medical care to receive care with millions of dollars in donated medical services through the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund. A group of retired NFL players says in a lawsuit filed Tuesday, May 20, 2014, that the league, thirsty for profits, illegally supplied them with risky narcotics and other painkillers that numbed their injuries for games and led to medical complications down the road. "I was provided uppers, downers, painkillers, you name it while in the NFL," plaintiff J.D. Hill, who played for seven years in the 1970s, said in a statement. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2011 file photo, President Barack Obama, left, looks towards quarterback Jim McMahon, wearing headband, as he honors the 1985 Super Bowl XX Champion Chicago Bears football team during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. A group of retired NFL players says in a lawsuit that the league illegally supplied them with risky painkillers that numbed their injuries and led to medical complications. Attorney Steven Silverman says his firm filed the lawsuit Tuesday, May 20, 2014, in federal court in San Francisco. The eight named plaintiffs include Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent and quarterback Jim McMahon. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
FILE - In this May 2, 2014 file photo, Richard Dent is introduced before the inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan Fest at the International Exposition Center in Cleveland. A group of retired NFL players says in a lawsuit that the league illegally supplied them with risky painkillers that numbed their injuries and led to medical complications. Attorney Steven Silverman says his firm filed the lawsuit Tuesday, May 20, 2014, in federal court in San Francisco. The eight named plaintiffs include Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent and quarterback Jim McMahon. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2010, file photo, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton answers a question during a news conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. A lawsuit filed by the New Orleans Saints' former security director accuses the Super Bowl champions of trying to cover up the alleged theft of prescription pain pills from the team's drug locker. Payton issued a statement saying he never abused or stole Vicodin. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
FILE - In this July 27, 2007 file photo, Oakland Raiders' Jeremy Newberry walks with his helmet off during a break in practice at training camp in Napa, Calif. A group of retired NFL players says in a lawsuit filed Tuesday, May 20, 2014, that the league, thirsty for profits, illegally supplied them with risky narcotics and other painkillers that numbed their injuries for games and led to medical complications down the road. Newberry describes lining up in the San Francisco 49ers' locker room with other players to receive powerful anti-inflammatory injections in their buttocks shortly before kickoff. He retired in 2009, and because of the drugs he took while playing, he now suffers from renal failure, high blood pressure and violent headaches, the lawsuit says. (AP Photo/George Nikitin, File)
FILE - This Jan. 16, 1986 file photo shows Chicago Bears defensive end Richard Dent chases a loose ball during the NFL playoffs in Chicago. A group of retired NFL players says in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the league, thirsty for profits, illegally supplied them with risky narcotics and other painkillers that numbed their injuries for games and led to medical complications down the road. The complaint names eight players, including three members of the Super Bowl champion 1985 Chicago Bears: Dent, offensive lineman Keith Van Horne, and quarterback Jim McMahon. Lawyers seek class-action status, and they say in the filing that more than 400 other former players have signed on to the lawsuit. (AP Photo, File)
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By BEN NUCKOLS

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.

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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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