Entertainment & Sports Law

NFL football

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In the latest ruling regarding the NFL’s alleged “return-to-play” scheme, a federal judge held that retired players failed to prove that the league was responsible for handing out painkillers and pushing the players back onto the field.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California said in his motion to dismiss the lawsuit April 18 that Richard Dent—a former Chicago Bears player and NFL Hall of Famer—and his co-plaintiffs failed to provide details that directly tied the NFL to the unlawful distribution of drugs. Courthouse News Service and the Recorder have coverage.

“Though plaintiffs generally contend that the NFL controlled and directed the distribution of the players’ medication via the ‘Business Plan,’ nowhere in the third amended complaint do plaintiffs specifically allege any facts as to how the NFL instructed the club doctors’ handling, distribution and administration of the drugs or otherwise forced the club doctors to violate any relevant drug laws,” Alsup wrote in the opinion.

Dent sued the NFL in May 2014, claiming that the league instructed team doctors to provide players with unprescribed drugs without warning them of the harmful side effects. According to Courthouse News Service, Dent said he ended his career with not only an enlarged heart and permanent nerve damage in his foot but also an addiction to painkillers.

“The NFL’s alleged pressure on the clubs to return players to play as soon as possible does not sufficiently support plaintiffs’ allegation that the NFL was directly involved in the clubs’ distribution of the medications such that it owed a duty to plaintiffs or violated any relevant statutes,” Alsup said in the opinion.

Alsup dismissed the lawsuit in December 2014, but it was revived by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at San Francisco in September 2018.

In February, the 9th Circuit affirmed Alsup’s dismissal of a separate class action brought by former NFL players who alleged that they were overmedicated and pressured to return to the field despite injuries that had not fully healed.

The appeals court found in that case that players waited too long to file their lawsuit.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Retired NFL players allege team doctors broke prescription laws, pushed painkillers”