More than 1,500 former players claiming that NFL teams and their training staffs dispensed powerful drugs while misleading them about the health risks will get their day in court.
Federal judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California denied a motion Friday to dismiss the players' lawsuit, allowing the discovery phase of the trial to begin.
Alsup had dismissed a similar lawsuit in December 2014, in which former Chicago Bears great Richard Dent was the lead plaintiff among the dozen named. Alsup wrote that the collective bargaining agreement was the proper forum to resolve the players' claims. That case is currently on appeal.
The new lawsuit was filed in May 2015 in federal court in Baltimore and eventually transferred back to Alsup because it was closely related. The new class action, however, names each of the NFL's 32 teams individually and a new group of named plaintiffs — 13 in all — among them Cowboys Hall of Fame defensive back Mel Renfro and Etopia Evans, the widow of former Vikings and Ravens fullback Chuck Evans, who died of heart failure at age 41.
In denying the motion to dismiss, Alsup also noted the new lawsuit claims the teams' conduct was "intentional," as opposed to "negligent," and thus illegal. Players contend they were routinely and indiscriminately given powerful painkillers, often without prescriptions or even a cursory exam, to mask pain and injuries and get them back on the field without regard for their long-term health.
"When asked about side effects of medications, club doctors and trainers responded, 'none,' 'don't worry about them,' 'not much,' 'they are good for you,' or, in the case of injections, 'maybe some bruising,'" Alsup wrote, referring to what he called the "well-pled facts" of the players' previous claim.
"These answers misrepresented the actual health dangers posed by these drugs," the judge added.
Steve Silverman, the lead plaintiffs' attorney in both lawsuits, said "the court has opened the doors of justice for those players who were illegally drugged, used, abused and discarded by the NFL teams."
"Plaintiffs will now have the opportunity to put the NFL teams to task as to where these painkillers came from, how they were namelessly purchased in bulk, and why there is no record of examinations and prescriptions as to most players," he added.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy declined comment.