NFL Drug Abuse: Why the Feds Are Taking the Field

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While reports on the NFL’s reeling players gobbling down easily attainable prescription painkillers, given to them without much in the way of rhyme or reason beyond “this player is hurt, this will alleviate it” first began to surface, it was through a class action lawsuit that former players lodged against the billion dollar entertainment behemoth. Turns out that the booze-and-pills combination allegedly being offered to players between games by the teams and the team doctors was enough to get the Drug Enforcement Agency interested.

“Agents from the DEA’s New York division are reaching out to former players to learn how NFL doctors and trainers get access to potent narcotics such as Percodan and Vicodin,” the New York Daily News reported. This jives with an earlier report, detailed in the story above, that Keith Van Horn’s name was used by the Chicago Bears to fill prescriptions without his knowledge or consent — he only found out when he went to a separate doctor for some pain medication that was actually, you know, for him.

The story repeats itself with a thousand different variations, from Roy Green’s undiagnosed kidney damage, to Jim McMahon’s 100 pills a month Percocet habit, and the fact that “the Named Plaintiffs rarely, if ever, received written prescriptions (or for that matter, anything in writing) for the medications they were receiving. That last factoid comes from the class action suit itself, which you can find in an embedded PDF at the bottom this link.

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Even if the NFL has moved away, at least slightly, from the glorification of hard hits and “manning up” and “getting back in there,” football remains a sport dominated by a warrior culture of playing through pain, with all the gritted teeth and disregard for personal safety that the phrase implies. While the breadth of the offenses would seem to indicate that this is a league-wide phenomenon, the NFL will probably encourage the idea that its a franchise level problem, and that the league itself can be absolved of any guilt. Blame the fish for swimming, not the ocean for being there, as it were.

“I don’t think the NFL loves the fact that there is a drug investigation,” Robert Boland, a former sports agent and defense attorney, told the New York Daily News. “But in the end, the NFL may be able to successfully say this is a club matter.” Boland also told the paper that the DEA might be able to uncover things that the prosecution team for the players lawsuit could not.

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