Former NFL Players Say League Pumped Them Up With Painkillers to Get Them to Play

Saturday, June 11, 2016
Photo illustration: Steve Straehley/AllGov

By Nicholas Iovino, Courthouse News Service

SAN FRANCISCO — Retired players on Thursday fought to revive claims that National Football League teams pumped them with painkillers to get them back on the field, disregarding long-term effects on their health.

Lead plaintiff  Etopia Evans, the wife of the late Charles Evans, who played for the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens, filed a federal class action against all 32 NFL teams in May 2015. The case was transferred from Maryland to Northern California in March.

During a hearing Thursday, an attorney representing the NFL clubs urged U.S. District Judge William Alsup to dismiss the lawsuit as he did with a similar class action, Dent v. NFL, in 2014.

“There’s no difference at all between these two cases,” NFL clubs’ attorney Gregg Levy said. “The allegations here are the same.”

Class attorney Phillip Closius countered that unlike Dent, this class action names individual clubs as defendants, not the NFL.

In Dent, Alsup found the league had no duty to “intervene or stop mistreatment” by the NFL’s independent clubs and that the claims were governed by collective bargaining agreements subject to arbitration. That ruling was appealed to the Ninth Circuit last year.

“The allegation was the NFL only had a supervisory role for the teams, not the players,” Closius said. “In this case, that’s inapplicable because there’s no immediate step between the plaintiffs and defendants.”

The former players allege the clubs conspired since at least 1964 to have trainers dole out pills and inject players with painkillers, sometimes mixing them with other drugs in dangerous cocktails, to get them back on the field to drive profits for the league.

“Everyone around them in the NFL didn’t care their long-term health was being destroyed to get them back on the field,” Closius said. “They profited to the tune of billions and harmed their players in the long term.”

Charles Evans died alone in a jail cell in 2008 two days after he was imprisoned for failing to pay child support. He spent his money on painkillers, which he got addicted to while playing professional football, according to the complaint.

Closius said the NFL clubs hid the side effects of the drugs from the players, and in some cases, even lied about how the painkillers might affect them and their health.

Levy countered that according to collective bargaining agreements, the physicians had a duty to disclose symptoms and prescribe treatment. The contracts in no way obligate the clubs to disclose information on side effects of drugs, he said.

Levy also disputed allegations that trainers, not physicians, doled out painkillers to players on regular basis during games.

Closius painted Levy’s arguments on collective bargaining agreements as a red herring, pointing out that players allege the clubs engaged in a “global conspiracy” to violate federal law by misrepresenting the side effects and risks of dangerous medications given to players.

“We’re not obligated to sue every member of the conspiracy in one lawsuit,” Closius said. “We’re not interested in the doctors and trainers. We’re not interested in the henchman. We’re interested in those who profited with millions of dollars.”

Alsup ended the hearing after a half hour of debate, asking both sides to submit follow-up briefs by June 14 before he renders his decision on the motion to dismiss.

With 13 named plaintiffs, the Evans suit seeks to certify a class of all retired NFL players who were given painkillers by team doctors and trainers without a valid prescription, examination, diagnosis or warning from the early 1960s to present.


To Learn More:

Playing in the NFL is a Dangerous Job: 250 Players Dealing with Injuries after Second Week of Games (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

New State Law Favors Wealthy NFL Owners over Damaged Ex-Players (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

NFL Players at Greater Risk for Dementia (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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