“You Knew,” The Sequel

Eight retired NFL players have filed a lawsuit against the NFL, alleging that the league illegal supplied them with pain-killing narcotics and other drugs in order to keep them on the field, with reckless disregard for the players’ long-term health. As a consequence, the suit further alleges, many developed long-term addictions. It is reported that some 500 other retired players have signed onto the suit.

Among the eight named plaintiffs are Hall-of-Famer Richard Dent and Jim McMahon. The suit notes that former Bears’ offensive lineman Keith Van Horne played an entire season with a broken leg, an injury that wasn’t disclosed to him for *five* years.

Patrick Hruby has a thorough primer on the basics of the case.

At the heart of this case will be the nature of the relationship between team doctors and the players. Whose interests are the doctors serving, the players, or the teams?

Golic once again trotted out the “you knew” line during discussion this morning of the lawsuit. He did distinguish between outright lying to players – as Van Horne contends, for example – and what he regards as certain “common sense” notions. For Golic, the bottom line is that players always want to play and will do anything to get back on the field. So they should not whine now about the long-term consequences to their health of popping pills to get back on the field. That’s the bargain that every NFL players signs up for. Neither the league nor the doctors are or to blame for that simple truth.

Hruby’s primer makes clear, however, that drugs are rampant in the NFL and are misused and mis-prescribed systematically. Since players aren’t doctors, they are unlikely to know specifically the the medical risks involved. That is the responsibility of doctors.

Lester Munson explained this morning that the case will turn importantly on the concept of informed concept. It may have been true that players wanted to play no matter what. But if the team concealed vital information from them, whether about their existing medical condition *or* about the knowable impact on their long-term health from the drugs they were taking, the players’ presumptive desire to play is irrelevant.

In this context, Hruby discusses the NFL’s use of the drug Toradol. Toradol is typically used for post-surgery pain relief. Toradol was used as pain-numbing agent by almost every NFL team, according to a 2002 study, despite very serious potential side-effects, including excess bleeding and inhibited kidney function.


Did the NFL and its team doctors reconsider the use of a dangerous operating room drug — one banned by some European countries — that also proved popular among players as a pre-game numbing agent? A drug that helped injured players suit up, and players on the field feel invincible? A drug that enabled harder hits, longer careers, less time in the rehab tub and increased game-day abandon? A drug, the suit claims, that had Newberry, Stone and other San Francisco players habitually and unthinkingly lining up in their locker room, pants down, ready to receive shots in the ass?

Yes. Eventually. In 2012, the NFL Physician Society formed a task force to examine Toradol use. An entire decade later.

Even after all that, the NFL still allows the use of Toradol, according to the discretion of team physicians.

In this case, what exactly should players “know,” apart from a blanket assumption that any drug a team doctor prescribes may be risky and can be expected to be use in a manner not recommended by the FDA?

Mark Schlereth, on Mike and Mike this morning, also pronounced himself a “personal-responsibility guy,” saying he knew the long-term risks of playing, including the certainty that doing so would do permanent damage to his body. He also said that he did not trust his team doctors. He knew who cut their paychecks and what the imperatives were to get players back on the field at all costs.

That won’t be much of a legal defense for the NFL.

Hruby also recounts that “[f]ormer Denver Broncos tight end Nate Jackson once told me that when he obtained his complete NFL medical file following his retirement — via subpoena in a worker’s compensation case — he was shocked at the difference between the way his injuries were described to him by team trainers and the actual information in print.”

By the way, in a discussion of Toradol this morning, Golic asserted this morning that, once they learned more about the drug, teams stopped using it.

That is untrue.

A final point – Munson speculated that the league might try to fold this lawsuit into the larger concussion lawsuit whose settlement is still stuck in negotiations. Hruby notes that the connection between the painkiller action and the concussion problem is quite clear – sending compromised players back on to the field would certainly increase their exposure to more damaging head shots.



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