Ex-NFL Players Seek to Revive Suit Over Drugs, Painkillers

By Karen Gullo | January 29, 2015

Retired players including former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon asked a federal appeals court to revive a lawsuit accusing the National Football League of giving athletes painkillers and other drugs to mask injuries.

A federal judge last month ruled that collective bargaining rules block such complaints. The players are appealing the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco, according to a notice filed in the lawsuit.

The case is part of a broader effort by athletes to be compensated for old injuries through litigation. Thousands of former NFL players have sued over concussions and other head injuries sustained on the field. Players involved in those suits, consolidated in Philadelphia, are awaiting final court approval of a $765 million settlement over those claims.

In the California case, former players describe a “culture of drug misuse” in the NFL in which the league administered cocktails of medications, including opioids, local anesthetics and anti-inflammatories, so players could continue to play while injured. Some players claimed they suffered permanent physical damage as a result.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco said the NFL has taken many steps to address medical care by requiring clubs to protect their health and safety as part of collective bargaining agreements with players’ unions.

The Labor Management Relations Act bars lawsuits over provisions of those agreements, which would require judicial interpretation, Alsup said in agreeing with the NFL.

The case is Dent v. NFL, 14-cv-02324, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco)

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