Hundreds of former NFL players have filed a lawsuit alleging that team doctors, trainers, and medical personnel provided painkillers to them, often illegally, to keep them on the field, disregarding health risks and withholding information about their injuries. Additionally, the players contend that former coaches and assistants threatened to cut them from play if they didn’t use painkillers to compete while injured.
“This lawsuit alleges intentional activity by the teams, not negligence,” said Steve Silverman, a lawyer for the players. “It’s another part of a unified effort to provide healthcare and compensation to the thousands of former players who have been permanently injured or died as a result of playing professional football.”
Among the 13 named plaintiffs are Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Renfro of the Dallas Cowboys and Etopia Evans, the widow of Charles Evans. Evans, who played with the Minnesota Vikings and the Baltimore Ravens, died in 2008 from heart failure at the age of 41. The lawsuit names each NFL team as a defendant.
A similar lawsuit was dismissed in December by Judge William Alsup, who wrote that the issue should be resolved via the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association. The decision is being appealed.
Prescription painkiller misuse extends beyond the sports world. Over the past 15 years, an increase in prescribing rates has paralleled a sharp rise in opioid addiction and overdose deaths—the worst drug epidemic in U.S. history, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A study from the Washington University School of Medicine found that former NFL players had an addiction rate to opioid painkillers four times that of the general population.