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Former players claim NFL teams used illegal narcotics as painkillers

NFL lawsuit: Former players claim teams used illegal narcotics as painkillers Jim McMahon is one of three members of the 1985 Bears involved in a new lawsuit. (Peter Read Miller/SI)

The NFL has long battled a history of allegations that its teams put former players in harm's way, with little thought to the long-term physical effects on those players. A mammoth lawsuit filed by more than 4,000 former players relating to untreated head injuries is still in the courts, and now the league has to deal with the contention that it used illegal narcotics as painkillers with players -- with reckless effect, and with long-term negative consequences.

On Tuesday, a lawsuit was filed in San Francisco District Court on behalf of eight former players, including three members of the Super Bowl champion 1985 Chicago Bears -- quarterback Jim McMahon, offensive lineman Keith Van Horne and Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent. Attorneys for the plaintiffs are seeking class-action status and told The Associated Press that more than 500 former players have signed on if that becomes the case.

Six of the players in this lawsuit were also involved in the concussion lawsuit -- McMahon and Van Horne are two of them.

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The lawsuit seeks unspecified financial damages, and an injunction that would create a league-funded program to assist current and former players with addictions, injuries and disabilities relating to their use of painkillers.

According to the lawsuit, the league illegally gave players dangerous and illegal narcotics to mask pain and allow those players to return to games when they should not have. It is alleged that the NFL was administering illegal drugs, without prescriptions, and with no warning of their side effects. Instead of telling players of broken bones and other serious injuries, it's alleged that teams knowingly hid major injuries. Several players claim that they retired from the NFL addicted to those painkillers.

"We have not seen the lawsuit and our attorneys have not had an opportunity to review it," league spokesman Brian McCarthy told the AP in a statement.

The plaintiffs' attorneys are seeking class-action status for any player who has been given illegal, non-prescribed pain-killing drugs, given diagnoses without warnings about side effects and diagnoses without the intervention of an independent physician.

"As a kid, when you come into the league, you're assuming that the league had your best interests," Dent said on ESPN Radio when asked about his motivation. "When one is asked to do this or do that, you kind of do it. Not to say that you don't know any better, but you're hoping that the league is taking care of athletes looking to do [their] best. Some of these things that have taken place in the long-term picture... there no one there to help you when things aren't going so well. When you ask for help, and it's all about playing the game...  we know that the league will not stop for anything. So, what are you when you're hurt? You get pushed in that area. Doctors and teams... there must be records. There must be things kept."

"I was provided uppers, downers, painkillers, you name it while in the NFL," said plaintiff J.D. Hill, who played receiver for the Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills from 1971 through 1977. "I became addicted and turned to the streets after my career and was homeless. Never took a drug in my life, and I became a junkie in the NFL."

Former Pro Bowl guard Jeremy Newberry, who played for the San Francisco 49ers from 1999 through 2008, recalls in the lawsuit that he and other players lined up to receive anti-inflammatory shots in their buttocks before games began. Newberry claims that during one season, he was so banged up that he played in every game, but was never able to practice due to the pain of multiple injuries.

Newberry now claims that because of those drugs, he suffers from high blood pressure, renal failure and violent headaches.

The concussion lawsuit, which was originally settled for a base sum of $765 million plus various administrative fees that would have taken it over the $1 billion mark, was rejected by U.S. District Judge Anita Brody, because Brody didn't believe the amount to be enough to cover all required damages, and she asked for more actuarial details.

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