In the latest legal assault on the nation’s most popular sport, former professional athletes are accusing the National Football League of illegally pushing players to take risky narcotics that masked serious injuries and turned some athletes into drug addicts. The allegations come in a lawsuit filed today on behalf of more than 500 ex-players in federal court in San Francisco.
The suit, which seeks class action status, raises an immediate question: Can adults sue a former employer for supposedly encouraging them to take painkillers? In a word, yes.
If, as accused, NFL teams obtained drugs illegally and misled players about side effects and addiction dangers, these could be grounds for a liability finding and big money damages. The NFL generates some $10 billion a year in revenue, based on the talents of those players.
Team officials and the league would have a legal defense that the plaintiffs knew what they were doing and assumed relevant risks. Moreover, the defendants could threaten to investigate and reveal all manner of player misbehavior that might have contributed to drug problems. But in the final analysis, the NFL could face serious jeopardy if the plaintiffs have documents and eyewitness testimony to back up their charges.
An NFL spokesman, Brian McCarthy, told the Associated Press that the league hadn’t seen the lawsuit and therefore couldn’t yet comment.
Last year, the NFL agreed to pay a total of more than $900 million over a period of years to settle a wave of litigation accusing it of concealing long-term health hazards related to on-field concussions. In the head-injury case, the NFL had potent legal defenses but decided to compromise, at least in part because of the intensely negative publicity surrounding its history of equivocating about player concussions. The unsavory nature of the drug allegations seems similar in that the league wouldn’t want fans to see the ugly locker room practices that players say kept injured athletes available to take the field.
More from the AP:
The drug lawsuit names eight players, including three members of the NFL champion 1985 Chicago Bears: Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent, offensive lineman Keith Van Horne and quarterback Jim McMahon. … McMahon says in the lawsuit that he suffered a broken neck and ankle during his career but rather than sitting out, he received medications and was pushed back on to 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 off season, the lawsuit says. Team-employed doctors and trainers illegally administered the drugs, the lawsuit alleges, because they didn’t get prescriptions, keep records or explain the side effects.
McMahon is one of several lead plaintiffs in the drug case who previously participated in the concussion litigation. Based on the grisly evidence his attorneys are already offering in this latest round of courtroom hostilities, the NFL will want to keep the former star and his teammates from getting in front of jury.