Tom Dahlin/Getty Images
Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

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? 

Painkiller Problem

Do ex-players have a case? Michael McCann breaks down the NFL’s possible defense strategies in the painkiller lawsuit. FULL STORY

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.

Now onto your email:

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101 comments
rheffero
rheffero

First step, if there is any legal system left that still understands personal accountability, would be to reject the suit and have them go back through the team doctors, coaches and gm's or prove that Rozell/Taglibue directed teams to inject players and not inform them of the potential effects.


What does Goodell have to do with Keith Van Horne and his team doctor?


It would be something that may change the whole perception of the league if coaches like Noll, Landry, Shula, Walsh, Gibbs, Madden, Parcells, Ditka, (does not deserve to be in this group but his ex players are very very loud), Jimmy Johnson, Belchick were/are directing team doctors to inject players and leave out the details.


There is no way that this practice is allowed to happen without their knowledge.


We all understand how each generation builds, but the players from yesteryear believe that because when they played, they could not generate the interest or revenue that today's players due, but you can not escape the sense that they are still wanting to cash in (mismanaged their retirement perhaps?)


I am not clear that there is value in having someone playing hurt, but having them played injured seems like the quality of performance would be limited.


Performance remains the most critical element in the NFL.


Bongo
Bongo

Reporting on the NFL has, for many years, included talk of a player getting "an injection" before the game so he could play, or even at halftime.  Of course we're never told what the injection contains.  If a doctor is telling you that this injection will help you return to the field, then I don't blame the players.  We can't expect them to be medical experts and have a full understanding of any long-term consequences from the drugs the team docs are giving them.


All of this is part and parcel of football culture in our country.  If you're hurt you need to "man up" and get back on the field.  You don't want to let the team down.  So-and-so had a similar injury and he was able to play, why can't you?


Players are treated like cattle and are used until they are used up.  I don't care what their paycheck looks like.  They're NOT doctors, so it's foolish to put the blame on them for the consequences of taking these drugs.

Action
Action

These guys just need to shut up and play football.

premontb
premontb

About the DUI, all you have to do is point to Donte Stallworth. One person died from an athlete DUI. 1 game for first offenders? That is a joke. You can do something with a chance to end someone's life, and you miss 1 game.

JeffWBrown
JeffWBrown

DUI in our society should be a felony, first offense.  You have to make the punishment for crime deter crime, to a degree.  Doesn't always work, but if it wipes out 60% of the stupidity as a whole, then that is 6 out of 10 drunks off the roads.  I like those odds better than 10 out of 10.


For the argument below that states about Peter King's kid being ran over by a drunk driver, I totally agree, though you have a different circumstance with certainly more press.  Press coverage drives the disipline.  I personally believe that if you are impaired and kill someone due to that impairment, then it should at least be second degree murder.  Honestly, you know you are getting drunk, and therefore using a car (weapon) is pre-meditated in most cases.  Yes I know there are exceptions, but it is all about getting that 6 out of 10.  Then you have 4 morons to worry about.

picklejuice
picklejuice

Here is an idea. Instead of sideline doctors being an employee of the NFL or local team, make them employees of the players union. No player would want their agent to be an NFL employee, so why have a team doctor that is more beholden to the team's owner than the patient. How much money the union gets from the NFL to hire those doctors would be something for them to negotiate. And if they don't think they got enough money, or the players want better doctors, then they can pay more in union dues to cover the expense.

theboneman21
theboneman21

If Tom Brady ran down one of King's kids while inebriated I wonder if he would think the one game suspension was enough .

If some walked into a mall and started spraying bullets it is the same thing.

theboneman21
theboneman21

1. Drugs were used recklessly in the 70s and 80s ? WHAT ?

2.If they were on an elevator and she cracked him with a cell phone and kept wailing and he pushed her away and in a drunken stupor she hit her head against the wall and fell down, and was knocked out, that is not quite the evil picture as him delivering a right cross or a haymaker.if she is pummeling him with a phone in an elevator it is not like he can walk away.

therick5000
therick5000

We don't always get what we want in life. Everyone expects that just because all the civil rights groups are pushing for name change, that we'll get the happy Hollywood ending where the name is changed and everybody lives happily ever after. It's like if you go ask your boss for a raise. You can make an impassioned plea, stick up for yourself, etc. Ideally he will say you're right, I see it your way, shake your hand and give you the raise. The reality is often we're told 'no'. These groups (some who are legitimate, some just trying to serve their own agenda) can fight the good fight, but they may not get the resolution they desire.

GT500456
GT500456

I think that  in  an  effort  to honor  Peter King,  the Washington Redskins should change their name to the Washington Foreskins.

Raiderforlife
Raiderforlife

Peter King is a big a moon bat as Reid and Obama he should give up this football hobby and go to the NewYork Times

Bonecrusher77
Bonecrusher77

This talk of the Redskins name is the new path for a minority to make a change.  Complain enough through social media to pressure someone to do what you want, like fire someone for saying something insensitive but well within their American right.

I like the football info, Peter, but this column seems to have gotten much more political in the past 2-3 years.

Prov1
Prov1

So Pete, I love you, but what is the statute of limitations???  I say never.  The league knew all along that this game was ridiculously dangerous for these guys, and still profits off of their pain.  It's really crazy when you think about it.

daveg2011
daveg2011

leave mr snyder alone and let him do what he wants as he owns the team!!! i am so sick of a few people trying to make a change because it offends them. grow a pair!!!

Asterisk
Asterisk

While I empathize with Jeremy Newberry and the others, I can't believe they can plead ignorance to all of this.  I also suspect Toradol is not the only medication they ever put in their bodies that could have an effect on their organs.  Most of these guys are university educated (to some degree) and have their own doctors and advisers.

I realize many were around before you were just able to go online and google things, but some common sense is required.  Your body, you are responsible for what goes in it.  Just like the PED clause in the CBA.  And even if they knew, how many can honestly say they would have refused treatment?  Like the concussion sufferers who hide their conditions?

rheffero
rheffero

@Bongo  Players know this going in...the first thing they hear "perform or get cut and we will find someone who will".


All players are expected to play hurt, the question here is if they were injured and lied to by team doctors and coaches/gm. Yeah Billy, get back out there even though you now run a 5.8 because you are injuried?


How that gets tied back to Rozelle; Taglibue and Goodell is my question?

Bongo
Bongo

@JeffWBrown :  I like your point about premeditation.  When I'm at a bar and I know that I'm driving, I know that I have to be responsible and keep my drinking under control. Going from "having a beer" to being drunk - or over the legal limit - doesn't just magically happen.  Not to mention the fact that NFL players can afford to pay a taxi or hire a driver for the night if they know they'll be drinking.

Buck2185
Buck2185

@theboneman21  Actually, since it is Brady, Peter would tell Tom that it is OK and that he has two other kids......

blynder
blynder

@theboneman21

I think running down a child while drunk would draw a different response from the NFL than getting a DUI.

Jason1988
Jason1988

Might not be able to "walk away", but he definitely could've subdued her until the elevator opened back up again. He doesn't have to hit her. 

Aaron14
Aaron14

@Prov1 No doubt.  Why would a limitations statute come in to play if there is still suffering occurring from this?

Bongo
Bongo

@Asterisk :  Regardless of their education, they're not doctors.  A doctor is giving them medicine.  How in the world are they supposed to form their own opinion on what they're being given?

theboneman21
theboneman21

@blynder @theboneman21 

You think ?

The fact is, someone who drinks and drives is committing  what amounts to attempted murder, plain and simple. The fact that it is such a small penalty for something so serious is a joke.


Those who think one game is enough are clearly out of their minds. It is too lenient to "celebs"


Even Vince Neil got off light.

Mike26
Mike26

@Jason1988 Define "subdue" without firm/strong physical contact (not necessarily hitting).

Bongo
Bongo

@blynder @therick5000 :  I think he means a group who actually fights for civil rights vs. a group who is getting involved solely for political purposes or just to make a name for themselves.

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@TimHi @Bonecrusher77 It's simply the name of a business...  It affects NOTHING of their running game...  it does NOT affect who makes the team... it does not affect their play calling... or ANYTHING about football actually.


How is it a football issue to you?  FOOTBALL issue.  Not political issue.  Not what sponsors think, not what their fans think, not what the real Indian people think etc...


But FOOTBALL issues.  Does the Redskins name affect their strength training program?


Does it affect how they do their drills?  How many repetitions they do of a drill on the practice field?


Does it affect a play call in their games?


What FOOTBALL issue does it affect sir?


Bongo
Bongo

@Aaron14 @Prov1 :  Besides the fact that there are a million reasons why these guys may have waited.  Maybe they were given bad advice?  Maybe they're NOT DOCTORS and never made the connection until other cases were publicized?  Who knows.


I get the point that there's no real way to investigate what took place in a locker room 30+ years ago, but their concerns and issues are no less legit.

blynder
blynder

@theboneman21

There does seem to be some flexibility in it - i.e., a first office could be *at least* a game suspension, which can be extended/added too as situations warrant.  If the "baseline" or minimum sanction is a game suspension then they grow from there that would allow for sanctioning to be more appropriate to the incident.  I.e., so the player/personnel guy/coach/owner who drives drunk on a rural road, 2 miles to his home under the speed limit might receive a lesser sanction than the player/personnel/guy/coach/owner who drives drunk down the middle of Manhattan 20mph over the speed limit in the middle of rush hour.

theboneman21
theboneman21

No no don't stop. Lord knows part of the issue may be a lack of dialogue.

Here is the deal - if I drive like a maniac in traffic, say 100 mph and I am serving strong cutting people off, I can be charged with a crime even if sober.

A player who smokes dope is treated the same as a drunk driver which is insanity. A player who takes Ritalin is treated the same.

Goodell claims to care about the league's image. Yet when one of his employees drinks and drives he threatens to kill the very people who give him them their money. Maybe the NFL big wigs are huge Don Draper fans and long for the days where driving surround with s beer was acceptable.

blynder
blynder

@theboneman21

Ah so sorry, not trying to haggle over the term; just wondering how to punish something like this.  Potential or actual?  There are other "things" and "actions" that have the potential to do great harm (I don't want to discount that at all) but are not all treated equally... Where is the standard.  Now I'm getting philosophical - you can tell me to stop now. :D


theboneman21
theboneman21

Fine. Haggle over the term. They are IMPAIRED so it doesn't matter what they think. Getting behind the wheel of a car is as bad as walking into a mall and opening fire.

Drink driving is endangering the public. No question.

Remember Donate Stallworth ?

blynder
blynder

@theboneman21 @blynder

It's a bad thing - don't get me wrong; but calling it attempted murder is a stretch to me.  That is assuming that someone is planning on murdering someone when they drink and drive - I think most people think they're "ok" and/or they will not hurt anyone.  Does it need a heavier sentence?  I don't know, a suspension from a game and a heavy fine; plus some alcohol and drug counseling/rehab might be a good place to start.  We cannot thoroughly punish someone for potential dangers - we have to punish someone for what they've actually done.  


As to call someone out of their minds may be a stretch - some might be in their right mind but have different experiences. ;)


Who is Vince Neil?


blynder
blynder

@Bongo @blynder @therick5000

That is a decent answer Bongo; and it does leave a lot of room for interpretation. If *I* as someone not a part of the group hear their concerns and deem them as political and self-serving then where does it go?  These things are challenging - I think our collective skill as a country in being able to handle difficult conversations has taken such a huge hit.  Maybe it's the 24hour news cycle... we're seeing the effects of this in the Legislative branch - lots of bickering, sounds bites - no resolutions, collaborations and progress.

Bongo
Bongo

@Sportsfan18:  Yeah, but it's still a football issue.  That's like saying that reporting on contracts and financial stuff isn't a "football issue".  It's part of the game.  The teams are part of the league.  

theboneman21
theboneman21

In the rural area there are probably kids running around in the streets. I am not crazy about the idea of saying "sometimes it is not so bad"

A friend of mine got plowed in such a car. He survived but was in casts fun the chest down for months. We were in middle school and it was may of 1988, before cell phones. He lived in a rural area and was walking home at 1 am. He was walking on the shoulder of the road and wham.

He spent his summer vacation in the hospital and could never play sports again because some idiot was drunk driving.

blynder
blynder

@theboneman21

True. True. Lots of situations to consider I suppose.  And I hear what you are saying - I'm just not sure we can "punish" equally for potential perceived dangers.  Seems a 1st offense should be more educational if there are not mitigating circumstances (such as the rural road w/the kids playing on it) where a basic sanction can be used in combination with other actions to prevent.

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