Two Sides to the Suit
The NFL has some skeletons in its medical closet, which could be exposed if the recent painkiller lawsuit goes to trial. But there are a few things bothersome about the case. Those issues, plus answering readers’ mailbag questions
If I were an NFL attorney, I’d be concerned with former 49ers center Jeremy Newberry’s claims about routinely getting shot up with the painkiller Toradol—and not being told, according to Newberry, that he risked kidney failure by taking the drug. Newberry has lost much of his kidney function now, and he claims it’s because he took painkillers that were prescribed indiscriminately by team physicians, without regard to what they meant to his long-term health.
That’s a sordid and damaging case, if true and if it can be proven in court. It’s the kind of case the NFL cannot explain away, and there should be some nervous physicians in San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego, where Newberry (pictured above) played from 1998 to 2008.
The other part of the case that should concern the league is the purported systemic use, years ago, of cocktailing drugs to make their effects different than what their individual intentions were meant to be. To mix Toradol with even a minor pain-relief medication like Aleve is dangerous, and if it can be proven players were advised to do this and risk major organ failure … well, that’s a gigantic lawsuit.
I am bothered by a few things in this lawsuit, filed last week by eight former players against the NFL, claiming that teams didn’t properly notify them about the risks of taking painkillers during their careers. The attorneys for the eight players claim they are the name plaintiffs, and they represent 500 other players. I am bothered that players sued the league rather than individual teams; if it’s team doctors that willy-nilly handed out drugs to keep players on the field, why not name names and sue team doctors? Keith Van Horne, Jim McMahon and Richard Dent are three of the eight plaintiffs, and they played mostly for the Chicago Bears. Why is it the NFL that’s getting served here and not the doctors who handed out the medication?
I also am bothered by the timing of it. I do understand it often takes time for symptoms to emerge in retired players, but 37 years? Plaintiffs J.D. Hill and Ron Pritchard last played 37 years ago. They just got a lawyer now? What should the statute of limitations be for retired players to seek damages against either the NFL or their former teams? I don’t know, but two generations is too long. Way too long. I doubt Keith Van Horne, the former Bears tackle, is just now noticing health problems—21 years after last playing—and a quarter-century after learning he played a season with a broken leg without being told of the consequences. But now is when he’s suing.
Newberry and former offensive lineman Ron Stone stopped playing less than a decade ago, and it seems reasonable to suggest that six and nine years after players stopped playing is a fair window to file a suit. But 37 years?
It’s clear the NFL has some skeletons in its medical closet, and I wish Newberry well in his struggle to be adequately taken care of if it’s proven that drugs were dispensed without regard to his future health. And I also wish that the case won’t be settled with a multimillion-dollar payout. I want to see and hear what really happened in NFL trainers’ rooms, so the game can be sure—similar to bounty payouts—the same stuff never happens again.
But whacking team physicians from the seventies and eighties, which is most of what we’re talking about here … how far back will attorneys go to let the sun shine on bad medical practices? A liberal pill dispenser in the sixties? Some crazy trainer in the fifties? That part of it bugs me, not to be unsympathetic to the cases of Pritchard and Hill. But how are we going to get to the bottom of what happened in a trainers’ room 40 years ago? Who is still alive from then? Who has the memory to determine whether Hill or Pritchard is telling the truth—and how many witnesses can be brought forth to tell the truth about something that happened in 1973, or 1985?
I know there is strength in numbers, but if I were Newberry, I’d have flown solo on this case. I don’t see how massing these cases together helps his cause. I’d have sued the teams and their medics who allegedly gave him Toradol without adequate warning. But however it is done, I hope his testimony illuminates a part of football that needs klieg lights shined on it.
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