The theory that painkillers were pushed to NFL players to keep them on the field has has circulated for years.
Now hundreds of former players are bringing the issue to court after they filed a lawsuit claiming all 32 NFL teams, their doctors, trainers and medical staffs often illegally obtained and provided painkillers to players.
The lawsuit reprises some of the allegations made in a federal lawsuit last year on behalf of 1,300 former players against the NFL. That complaint was filed in May, 2014 and dismissed in December by Judge William Alsup of the U.S. Northern District in California. Alsup wrote that the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association was the appropriate forum to resolve such claims. That decision is being appealed.
The new lawsuit was filed Thursday in the U.S. Northern District of Maryland. It names each NFL team individually as a defendant and lists 13 plaintiffs, including Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Renfro of the Dallas Cowboys and Etopia Evans, the widow of Charles Evans, a running back who played eight years with the Minnesota Vikings and the Baltimore Ravens and retired after the 2000 season. Evans died of heart failure in October 2008 at age 41.
"This lawsuit alleges intentional activity by the teams, not negligence," said plaintiffs' attorney Steve Silverman. "It's another part of a unified effort to provide health care and compensation to the thousands of former players who have been permanently injured or died as a result of playing professional football."
Both lawsuits contend NFL teams and their medical staffs withheld information from players about the nature and seriousness of their injuries, while at the same time handing out prescription painkillers, anti-inflammatories and other dangerous drugs to mask pain and minimize lost playing time. Among other claims, the players contend prescriptions were filled out in their names without their knowledge.
The new lawsuit also claims that several former head coaches and assistants — among them, Don Shula, Howard Schnellenberger, Wayne Fontes, Mike Holmgren and Mike Tice — warned players they would be cut from their teams unless they took painkillers and returned to the field.