PRO FOOT­BALL

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY RICK MAESE rick.maese@wash­post.com

Re­main­ing claims in for­mer play­ers’ suit against the NFL are dis­missed.

A fed­eral judge in Cal­i­for­nia dis­missed the re­main­ing claims in a wide-reach­ing law­suit filed by for­mer foot­ball play­ers al­leg­ing NFL teams mis­treated them with pain med­i­ca­tion for years.

In his or­der Fri­day, U.S. District Judge Wil­liam Al­sup said the case could not pro­ceed be­cause the two for­mer play­ers whose claims were still alive had pre­vi­ously sought re­lief through work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion claims. Al­sup had pre­vi­ously dis­missed a sim­i­lar case al­leg­ing im­proper ad­min­is­tra­tion of pain drugs in the NFL, say­ing the col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment pro­vided other av­enues for ad­ju­di­ca­tion.

“Although work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion and col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing reme­dies are not gold-plated reme­dies, they are at least reme­dies rec­og­nized un­der the law,” Al­sup wrote in his or­der Fri­day. “The sweep­ing rem­edy sought herein by plain­tiffs is not, on this record, avail­able un­der the law.”

While the for­mer play­ers’ case sought class-ac­tion sta­tus, it laid out the claims of 14 de­fen­dants against all 32 teams. Al­sup dis­missed the bulk of those claims in May, say­ing the play­ers failed to demon­strate that their present­day med­i­cal ail­ments are tied to the med­i­ca­tions they re­ceived dur­ing their play­ing ca­reers.

The al­le­ga­tions laid out in the law­suit, much of them de­tailed in tran­scripts and doc­u­ments ob­tained through the dis­cov­ery process, drew wide­spread at­ten­tion to the NFL’s drug prac­tices, prompt­ing ques­tions from Congress and a griev­ance filed against the league by the NFL Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. The Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion also in­ves­ti­gated the league and launched sur­prise in­spec­tions of some teams shortly af­ter the ini­tial law­suit was filed in 2014, but never an­nounced any wrong­do­ing.

“Through this lit­i­ga­tion, the re­tired NFL play­ers have ac­com­plished a sig­nif­i­cant vic­tory in bring­ing the mis­uses and abuses of To­radol and nar­cotics pain killers in the NFL to the fore­front of pub­lic at­ten­tion,” said Steven Sil­ver­man, the Bal­ti­more-based at­tor­ney who rep­re­sented the for­mer play­ers, in a state­ment. “This lit­i­ga­tion has spurred pos­i­tive ac­tion by the DEA, NFLPA and Congress. As a re­sult of these play­ers’ will­ing­ness to make a stand, they have made the game safer. The de­ci­sion of one judge does not change the im­pact of the case.”

An NFL spokesman de­clined to com­ment on the judge’s de­ci­sion. Sil­ver­man said the for­mer play­ers would likely ap­peal Al­sup’s de­ci­sion.

“As we have said all along, these al­le­ga­tions were mer­it­less and the de­ci­sion val­i­dates our po­si­tion,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Satur­day.

A re­lated case, filed in May 2014 and fea­tur­ing Pro Foot­ball Hall of Famer Richard Dent as lead plain­tiff, is al­ready un­der ap­peal. While Al­sup sim­i­larly dis­missed the claims in the Dent law­suit in De­cem­ber 2014, he noted at the time that “player in­juries loom as a se­ri­ous and in­evitable evil. Proper care of these in­juries is like­wise a paramount need.”

In his or­der Fri­day, the judge noted the grav­ity of the al­le­ga­tions and the health and safety con­cerns laid out by the for­mer play­ers. “This and other or­ders rul­ing against the the­o­ries ad­vanced by plain­tiffs’ coun­sel in these cases do not di­min­ish the se­ri­ous­ness of the na­tional need to pro­tect the health and safety of our pro­fes­sional ath­letes,” Al­sup said.

The play­ers al­leged they were plied with pain med­i­ca­tion to the detri­ment of their own health to keep them on the play­ing field, and con­tended teams didn’t warn them about po­ten­tial side ef­fects and broke fed­eral law by im­prop­erly stor­ing, dis­tribut­ing and trans­port­ing con­trolled sub­stances. The NFL said in a let­ter to Congress that its teams fol­lowed DEA guid­ance on han­dling con­trolled sub­stances, and a DEA of­fi­cial told law­mak­ers that the league has taken steps to ad­dress the agency’s con­cerns in re­cent years.

In dis­miss­ing the bulk of the case in May, Al­sup said the ex-play­ers’ at­tor­neys hadn’t ad­e­quately ex­plained the health dam­ages the play­ers suf­fered be­cause of pain med­i­ca­tion use and whether their claims are barred by statute of lim­i­ta­tion. He al­lowed just two play­ers’ claims to pro­ceed.

Reg­gie Walker, an NFL line­backer from 2009 to 2014, al­leged that the San Diego Charg­ers kept him and his in­jured an­kle on the field with reg­u­lar in­jec­tions of To­radol, a pow­er­ful non­s­teroidal anti-in­flam­ma­tory drug. Walker said he still con­tin­ues to ex­pe­ri­ence an­kle pain. And Alphonso Car­reker, a de­fen­sive end who played from 1984 to 1991, charged the Den­ver Bron­cos and Green Bay Pack­ers with ply­ing him with pain med­i­ca­tion, and as a re­sult he re­quired heart surgery in 2013.

While the teams ar­gued that these re­main­ing claims were barred from pro­ceed­ing be­cause of pre­vi­ous work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion claims, the for­mer play­ers con­tended that the claims “fall within an in­ten­tional harm ex­cep­tion.”

In his or­der, Al­sup said, “the mere cul­pa­bil­ity of such mis­con­duct . . . is not a ba­sis for keep­ing in court a claim prop­erly sub­ject to the ex­clu­sive rem­edy pro­vi­sions of work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion laws.”

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