500+ Former Players Sue the NFL

Trigger warning, I am not a sports fan, so I can’t appreciate how much this is going to pain those of you who love their team. From the 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 later in life.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages on behalf of more than 500 ex-athletes, charges the NFL with putting profits ahead of players’ health.

To speed injured athletes’ return to the field, team doctors and trainers dispensed 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 painkillers…

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…

As a result of masking their pain with drugs, players developed heart, lung and nerve ailments; kidney failure; and chronic injuries to muscles, bones and ligaments, the lawsuit alleges…

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…

48 replies
  1. 1
    aimai says:

    Good god. Aside from the lawsuit every player should be legally obligated/entitled to have yearly physicals with their own doctors, not under the supervision or with the pay of the team.

  2. 2
    Citizen_X says:

    “Quit whining! Play hurt, ya pu$$ies!”
    –Every other fatass couch potato in America.

    @aimai: Good idea.

  3. 3
    BGinCHI says:

    I heard Jim McMahon has dementia. I’m not sure how they can tell with that guy.

    Countdown until the NFL declares bankruptcy.

    But let’s wait until Burns weighs in.

  4. 4
    BGinCHI says:

    @aimai: Thrown aside like a migrant worker. Amazing that the league never saw this coming. Probably too rich to notice.

  5. 5
    PsiFighter37 says:

    While I do have sympathy for retired football players, I wonder why on earth anyone would think being hit constantly by 250-300-pound human beings, bulked up to the gills (and probably a decent number on steroids), would not have some kind of physical toll.

    If you get into the business, you’re buying into the physical issues that may come down the road. To me, this is simply part of what football is – as opposed to something stupid and easily preventable like fighting in hockey…

  6. 6
    mellowjohn says:

    not really sure why this qualifies as “news.” anyone who’s been paying attention knows this has been going on for years.

  7. 7
    Citizen Alan says:

    The reason I consider myself a socialist is because capitalism, carried to its logical extension, sanctions the deliberate murder of employees, consumers, and random passersby if there is enough profit to be made from doing so.

  8. 8
    ulee says:

    I think these muscle heads have run out of money so they are sueing. I’ve worked with masons and painters and carpenters who have had the hell beat out of their bodies. Perhaps there is a suit there.

  9. 9
    Petorado says:

    I worked in a hospital known for its great orthopaedists and we saw a good number of pro football players when I was there. One particular player had no pain tolerance for a minor knee procedure, even though he was being maximal amounts of narcotics to cover the pain. When he was being discharged, he apologized to the nurses about his complaining nature by describing exactly the type of behaviors that are alleged in this suit. That was over 20 years ago. He described these practices as being systemic and I couldn’t imagine having to work under these types of conditions where an employer would demand you play through debilitating injury, without regard to how catastrophic the damage could be for the rest of a player’s life.

  10. 10
    raven says:

    @mellowjohn: thank you

  11. 11
    Omnes Omnibus says:


    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.

    This is why they are suing.

    ETA: From the link.

  12. 12
    Comrade Scrutinizer says:

    @PsiFighter37: shorter PsiFighter37: “Play hurt, ya pu$$ies!” Never mind that a big part of the problem is that NFL team doctors and league medicos assured players that long term risks to health for football players was no worse than for couch potatoes. The cover-up in the NFL concerning health risks to players was just as blatant as that of Big Tobacco over the long term risk of tobacco products.

  13. 13
    Punchy says:

    @BGinCHI: McMahon is a train wreck. Saw him on ESPN about a year ago and I nearly spit out my dinner. He’s got memory loss writ large and probably dementia. Dont know whats going on with Dent.

  14. 14
    Comrade Scrutinizer says:

    @Citizen Alan: This.

  15. 15
    mclaren says:

    Over the long term, this is going to destroy the violent professional sports, like football and rugby and hockey. Over the short term it’s easy to deduce that corrupt judges will quash these lawsuits and well-funded disinformation campaigns by the NFL etc. will whitewash the situation. The fans of these kinds of violent sports will of course not give a shit.

    At the end of the day, the fans of these kinds of sports will eventually move away to illegal dog fights and warehouse no-rules boxing matches between homeless people. The violent sports like football will dwindle away fromthe public sphere and eventually vanish. Good riddance.

  16. 16
    raven says:

    @mclaren: You’re a jackass no matter how many posts you write. Fucking asshole.

  17. 17

    Toradol for everyone!

  18. 18
    Anoniminous says:

    I Ain’t No Lawyer but “team doctors and trainers dispensed drugs illegally, without obtaining prescriptions or warning of the possible side effects” sounds like a slam-dunk medical malpractice suit.

  19. 19
    jl says:


    But, a lot of this is about the league and individual teams lying to the players about what their true health and physical conditions were.

    So, sure, some guy is on steroids to bulk up, that doesn’t mean he forfeits all rights regarding health care, doesn’t mean he can break a leg during a game, and you lie to him, and pressure him to play by implying his job may be in the balance, drug him up to mask the pain, and then lie or recklessly withhold information about the damage the drugs do.

    That seems to be what this case is about. Lineman have known for years that they will get arthritis, joint replacements, probably need a walker ten years or more before they would have if they hadn’t played football. That doesn’t mean you can dishonestly ply then with drugs and blow their livers and kidneys without facing consequences.

  20. 20
    Amir Khalid says:

    The plaintiffs allege that they were lied to by team-appointed doctors, pressured into taking painkillers and performance-enhancing drugs so that they could play despite the pain telling them to stop, and wound up with broken and/or poisoned bodies. They did indeed sign up to get hit by 300-lb Goliaths every Sunday for a decade, but surely not for that other stuff.

  21. 21
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @jl: This. It is one thing to accept known risks for and shot a fame and money. It is another thing entirely to have risks forced upon without your consent. Legally, one can only assume the risks of which one has knowledge. To the extent that the teams or league lied or covered up, they are on the hook.

  22. 22
    ulee says:

    testing one two three

  23. 23
    scav says:

    They’re lucky they weren’t hauled out and shot like racehorses. Breeding program is slightly different as well, only I think they’re generally fussier about the four-legged studs getting all violent during the process.

    so, question. it seems when players do odd stuff with drugs all on their lonesome, it’s bad (Banishment! Awards revoked! Tsk Tsk! all those asterisks next to stats) but when it’s the teams and the very infrastructure lying their heads off, suddenly there are lawyers everywhere.

  24. 24
    ulee says:

    There it goes, but my comments have been lost forever, to the regret of noone.

  25. 25
    hells littlest angel says:

    Reason # 5,362 to be against organized sports.

  26. 26
    John Weiss says:

    @mclaren: Wish in one hand, shit in the other. This sort of stuff has been going on (documented!) since the Classical Greek era. As long as folks want to watch and there are young athletes wishing to cash in, it’s with us.

    Beats going to war don’t you think? Talk about a nasty business.

  27. 27
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @hells littlest angel: It’s not the sports; it’s the money.

  28. 28
    Keith G says:

    @PsiFighter37: @ulee:
    Ijits. Get out and read a bit more. Retired players talk about being obligated by contract to see only team “doctors” and not being able to gain access to their “official” medical record until after retirement.

    The NFL did everything they could think of to keep their investments totally in the dark about their own personal medical information.

    Blame them no more than you would blame a coal miner for walking into a coal mine.

  29. 29
    ulee says:

    Time for me to go. I think I’m entering into my drunken mean stage. I’ll say goodbye before I become an asshole.

  30. 30
    MattR says:

    For those who follow the game closely this isn’t really news nor is it a relic limited to the past. Just last year deadspin did an expose on the San Diego team doctor.

    The Chao dossier is lengthy. Two drinking-and-driving citations. A DEA investigation. Accusations that he enabled his former partner’s prescription-drug habit. Four lawsuits from former Chargers he had treated. In early 2011, reporter Brent Schrotenboer, Chao’s most dedicated watchdog, counted 20 lawsuits filed against Chao since 1998, with at least eight of those “settled with payouts to plaintiffs.” Another was decided last summer, when Chao was found liable for negligence and fraud in the case of a 15-year-old girl, Whitney Engler, who had been disfigured in the course of Chao’s treatment.

    As far as the NFL is concerned, all of this is irrelevant. Last year, the NFL Players Association asked the league for a formal review of Chao’s history. But the three-man independent panel hearing the case, per the collective-bargaining agreement, was not supposed to take into account the many suits stemming from Chao’s private practice, or his own arrests, or even claims of perjury. Quietly, in February, Chao was “totally exonerated” by the panel, which dismissed the medical malpractice suits as irrelevant to “the quality of care that he provides to the San Diego Chargers players.”

    Chao finally resigned a couple months after that story “to spend more time with his family”. I am sure it was just a coincidence that two SD area hospitals had just finalized plans to revoke his ability to perform surgeries at their facilities after complaints and lawsuits led them to review his history.

  31. 31
    some guy says:

    Anybody else watching A Hero’s Tale on Frontline right now?

  32. 32
    scav says:

    @scav: I mean, I get the legal differences between the assumption of risks, but what about the moral sporting uproar about the whole thing being a faux hopped- up charade of human bodies being used as demolition derby units where all the stats and the records are more a reflection of ccs injected? So long as the teams do it, it’s all just a part of the culture?

  33. 33
    Hungry Joe says:

    … and these are the guys who made good money, at least for a few years. Most college football players — 95 percent, maybe? — never make it to the pros. A lot of them don’t graduate, either, and after eight years (including high school) of football spend the rest of their lives in pain, limping, speeding toward dementia, whatever.

    I haven’t begun to have figured out what should be done, and how, and by whom.

  34. 34
    Anoniminous says:

    @some guy:

    Not yet. I’ll catch it at their website.

  35. 35

    @Hungry Joe: Hell, a lot of the pros today don’t make much money, and 20-30 years ago made very little. There’s a reason they were all out pimping products when they got some name recognition.

  36. 36
    some guy says:

    @Anoniminous: this episode is crucial. Watching Robert Dietz say “I am not going to talk about that. ” when mark Klein reveals his employer, ATT is letting NSA scoop up everything in 2005, will give the Snowden Greenwald Haters pause.

  37. 37

    @some guy: Why would it give us pause? We knew that was happening in 2005.

  38. 38
    Cassidy says:

    @mclaren: Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it. Watching a couple homeless dudes whip each other’s ass for a bottle of Boone’s Farm can be fun.

  39. 39
    some guy says:

    PREF ID cookies.

    Thanks, google. Assholes

  40. 40
    Keith G says:

    @ulee: Future tense?

  41. 41
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Keith G: Credit where credit is due.

  42. 42
    billB says:

    Not to diminish the evil rich owner set-up, but they do volunteer for this glory/money. You get in your car every day and risk death and a life in a wheelchair. Soldiers fight for our country every day and when did you hear of the VA doing a great job helping them. In short life can suck, and these men, all of them, volunteered for this.

  43. 43
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @billB: Again, as was pointed out several times above, the players volunteered for certain known dangers. Others were allegedly held from them intentionally. The lawsuit is about those things. The comments here do sometimes have value, you want to consider reading them before commenting.

  44. 44
    Jackie says:

    My son wasn’t a football player. He played baseball and was drafted as a pitcher out of high school. He ended up with two torn ACLs different seasons – and still finished Double A with 0.21 ERA – average pitch 98 mph – but then his shoulder went out. Now, at 33, he’s coaching baseball. Kids in sports start off by overusing their bodies WAY before college/professional sports. It doesn’t matter what sport they’re in – they’re pushed and pushed more to ignore aches and pains and ‘play for the team.’ To gain weight (but NOT take steroids ) and just ignore what their body is telling them. It’s all about the $$$. Not for them, but for the organization which stands to make millions off of these kids’ bodies.

    I love baseball. I love football. But I know 1st hand the sacrifices these players make to play.

    When my son wrote me a letter telling me he was DONE, explaining that he still loved the game, but at age 25, his body was shot and that he wanted to be able to give his own (at that time still in the future) children piggy-back rides and just horse-play with them on his hands and knees, I understood and let go of my hope for his MLB future.

  45. 45
    gian says:


    in the military you know that people using real weapons, or improvised weapons might just kill you, on purpose, when you sign up
    and there are serious limits on suing the government over stuff that happens to you in the military.
    in your car you have insurance.

    if your say working in Wal-Mart and you move an air conditioner and get a hernia, and the worker’s comp doctor that wal mart has you see just gives you some concoction say oxy and a shot of novacaine and cortisone and to get our lazy ass back to work, oh and here’s a weight lifting belt, and they work you until something really bad happens and then just terminate you would you think that’s OK?
    people call the NFL “not for long” because a lot of players are done at age 25 and never got a big contract.

  46. 46
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @billB: First, nice job editing without noting it. Second, the jobs and expectations of soldiers and professional athletes are different. Also too, the physical abilities of soldiers and professional athletes are different. The comparison is invalid.

  47. 47
    gian says:


    and baseball is about the least likely to screw your life of the major team sports (golf and tennis are not team sports in that sense)

    one of my Spanish teachers played minor league ball will one Jose Canseco, and I was told circa 1989 that he gained some 50 pounds of muscle in a year…
    but the money at stake… I expect many people in golf and tennis have tried PEDs and if you even just read the occasional story about women’s MMA, you’d see the use there is rampant too.

    your son is a smart man, and you raised him right. you should be proud of that. I read stories of kids being on 3 club teams and pitching 3-4 games a week. that’s cool for chess, not for pitching. people will get hurt

  48. 48
    gene108 says:


    Amazing that the league never saw this coming. Probably too rich to notice.

    Strange thing is if you ever see North Dallas Forty there’s a scene where one of the players is getting pushed by the trainers to take a pain killer to play, but the player does not want to because he risks further injury that he might not notice.

    This has been going on for a long time.

    People knew about it enough to put it into a movie 35 years ago.

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