Report: Court filings detail NFL's extreme usage of painkillers

NFL logo. (AP)
NFL logo. (AP)

NFL teams use painkillers in the normal course of business. This fact should surprise no one who’s seen a single tackle. But NFL teams also routinely overuse, misuse, or misreport the usage of these painkillers, according to court filings in a federal lawsuit filed by former players.

The Washington Post reviewed the court documents, which were mistakenly released due to a technical error. The documents revealed that teams regularly skirted or outright flouted federal law regulating the use and distribution of painkilling drugs. Team medical professionals conspired with each other to evade the law or misrepresent their compliance with it, according to the court documents. Lawyers for the players indicated that every single one of the doctors interviewed in the course of trial preparation indicated that there were errors, mistakes, and deliberate avoidance of federal law governing the use of painkillers.

More than 1,800 former players are suing the NFL in U.S. District Court in Northern California, charging that the NFL’s drug management practices have caused them long-term physical damages. The information published by the Post was collected by the players’ attorneys during the discovery process. While it was supposed to be sealed, a technical error apparently allowed the pages to be reviewed unredacted.

Anthony Yates, Pittsburgh Steelers team doctor, testified that “A majority of clubs as of 2010 had trainers controlling and handling prescription medications and controlled substances when they should not have,” the court documents state.

Team officials openly disregarded standard procedure for handling medication, according to the documents. “Can you have your office fax a copy of your DEA certificate to me?” Bengals trainer Paul Sparling emailed in 2009. “I need it for my records when the NFL ‘pill counters’ come to see if we are doing things right. Don’t worry, I’m pretty good at keeping them off the trail!”

In another instance, Bills trainer Bud Carpenter “admitted under oath that he witnessed team doctors give players injections of prescription medications without telling them what the drug was they were receiving or its side effects.”

“The NFL clubs and their medical staffs are all in compliance with the Controlled Substances Act,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email to the Post. “. . . The NFL clubs and their medical staffs continue to put the health and safety of our players first, providing all NFL players with the highest quality medical care. Any claim or suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong.”

This case is a rare instance in which the labor agreement between the players and the NFL did not serve to address a dispute; the players are in fact suing each of the 32 teams individually. Medical professionals contacted by the Post cautioned against using the numbers and statements in the filings as definitive proof of the extent of each team’s culpability, but the overall message is clear: the misuse of painkillers remains a clear and present concern for the NFL.

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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