NFL Former Players' Drug Abuse Suit Reinstated

(Bloomberg) -- Former National Football League players who claim they suffered permanent damage, addiction or other harm from being routinely given opioids and painkillers to keep them on the field had their lawsuit against league revived by an appeals court.

A federal judge threw out the lawsuit in 2014, finding that collective bargaining rules barred such complaints. The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco Thursday reversed the ruling, finding the players’ claims didn’t arise from a collective bargaining agreement that required them to file a grievance.

The ruling on the first day of the 2018-19 season adds to the woes of a league that’s been targeted by President Donald Trump over some players protesting during the national anthem. Former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started it all by refusing to stand during the anthem to protest police brutality, last week won permission from an arbitrator to pursue a collusion case against the league over NFL’s objections. And the city of Oakland said this week it plans a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the NFL and the Raiders over the team’s plan to move to Las Vegas, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

In the appeals court case, retired players, including ex-Chicago Bears stars Jim McMahon and Richard Dent, filed a proposed class action in federal court in San Francisco in May 2014, alleging a “culture of drug misuse” in which the players were given cocktails of medications, including opioids, local anesthetics and anti-inflammatories, so they could continue to play while injured.

Nerve Damage

Dent, who played for four different teams, complained that doctors and trainers gave him “hundreds, if not thousands” of injections and pills containing painkillers, yet was never warned of potential side effects. Dent said he was left with an enlarged heart, permanent nerve damage and an addiction to painkillers.

“The NFL, quite frankly, acted just like the pill mills that contributed to the worst public health epidemic in the nation’s history,” said Stuart Davidson of Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, an attorney for the retired players. “They lost their moral compass and cared about only three things: money, money, money.”

The league argued that the players couldn’t sue because they hadn’t exhausted the grievance procedures in collective bargaining agreements. The appeals court rejected the NFL’s claim, sending the lawsuit back to the lower court.

The NFL disputes the players’ allegations. “We have strong arguments on the merits of the case, which we have litigated successfully already,” said Brian McCarthy, league spokesman. “Every claim brought by every plaintiff was dismissed for a variety of reasons and we expect the same outcome.” These claims were dismissed in 2017, McCarthy said.

Kaepernick, who lost his ’49ers job after he started the protests, accuses the league of collusion because no other team would offer him a chance. This week, the quarterback got back in the spotlight with a feature role in a Nike Inc. promotional campaign that further fueled the debate, sparking a boycott campaign from Trump supporters and a fall in Nike shares.

The appeals court ruling came just hours before the start of the 2019 season, with the Philadelphia Eagles hosting the Atlanta Falcons.

The case is Dent v. National Football League, 15-15143, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).

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