A lawsuit filed by a group of former NFL players alleges all 32 teams provided painkillers to players as part of a longstanding conspiracy aimed at keeping them on the field despite the health risks.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court in Baltimore, claims NFL team doctors, trainers and medical personnel intentionally disregarded players' health by providing painkillers. It also alleges the teams and their medical staffs withheld information from players about the nature and seriousness of their injuries.
"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."
The lawsuit names each NFL team as a defendant and lists 13 plaintiffs. Among them are 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. Evans died of heart failure in October 2008 at age 41.
The suit claims teams failed to inform players about the seriousness of their injuries and often prescribed dangerous drugs to keep them playing. It also states prescriptions were often written in players' names without their knowledge.
In addition, the lawsuit accuses several former coaches and assistants of pressuring players to compete while injured. Former Miami Dolphins coaching great Don Shula, ex-Detroit Lions coach Wayne Fontes and former Green Bay Packers/Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren were among those accused of warning players they could be cut if they didn't use painkillers to play.
The lawsuit makes claims similar to those in a federal suit that was dismissed in December by Judge William Alsup in San Francisco. In his decision, Alsup wrote that issues regarding players' use of painkillers should be resolved via the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Assn. The decision is being appealed.