Holler: Players have culpability in drug case

The newest allegations against the NFL by former players may seem explosive, but the players had a willing role in this one – they knew what they were taking and why they were doing it.

In the hours prior to the Meltdown at the Meadowlands in January 2001, former Viking Update grand poobah Bob Lurtsema and I took a stroll down to the field to get a sense of the atmosphere. As we were standing near the end zone, a former NFL player came up and started chatting up Lurts.

Being relatively shunned from the conversation, I opened a tin of Altoids to freshen my breath in the off chance I might be asked to join in the discussion and, after popping one, before putting them away, I offered the chance for either of them to take one and get me in the mix.

Both accepted and, after fishing one out of the tin, they shared a laugh with the more famous of the two of them joking, "This seems about right. It's an hour before game time."

In the time period they played, the mantra was that injuries were "sprains," and there was a ready availability to drugs – whether those were to help speed up the heartbeat or to kill the pain. Make no mistake. Back in the day, the drug of choice for NFL players wasn't marijuana or cocaine. It came in pill form and it was prevalent.

The decision whether to take a pill was a choice. Some did. Some didn't.

The NFL is facing another lawsuit from former players, including three high-visibility players from the 1985 Super Bowl champion Bears, claiming that the NFL used painkillers to mask player injuries and get them to play when medical protocol said they shouldn't.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, claims the NFL illegally obtained and handed out drugs to players without prescriptions and never informed players of potential side effects. The purpose of that practice was to get players back on the field quicker – to the point of claims that teams didn't inform players they had broken bones and numbed the pain through medication to keep key players on the field.

The eight named plaintiffs include three members of the 1985 Bears – Jim McMahon, Richard Dent and Keith Van Horne – along with Roy Green, J.D. Hill, Jeremy Newberry, Ron Pritchard and Ron Stone.

The NFL is still walking through the minefield of the proposed $760 million settlement with 4,500 former players in a class action suit that has been challenged by the judge overseeing the case for not being complete. The last thing the league needs is another swing from former players saying that the NFL sanctioned illegal drug use.

The biggest problem with this particular argument is that the statute of limitations has long since passed on the alleged crimes made part of the lawsuit. Much less that most of the people who actually provided the drugs in question are either deceased or will soon be.

When it comes to issues associated with concussions, the NFL was negligent in its internal discoveries of the long-term impact head injuries would have on athletes. One is bad. Two is worse. Three is dangerous. The league's own hired medical experts couldn't defend The Shield in good conscience because what their findings came to weren't of much help in defending a lawsuit.

The latest lawsuit will be much easier to defend. What players did "back in the day" will become the focal point of any lawsuit moving forward.

The concussion debate was a legitimate legal question. What did the NFL know and when did it know it? That point was rendered moot when the league and the plaintiffs agreed to a settlement. It's still under judiciary review, but, as things stand, the NFL doesn't have to release any documentation of internal studies into the concussion question.

This lawsuit is claiming the NFL was, in effect, an underground drug dealer. The reality is that the allegations being made may well be largely accurate. But, unlike the concussion litigation, this time the NFL has the "prove it" argument in its favor.

Unless claims are made that they were unwittingly injected with drugs, it would seem the plaintiffs are just as legally culpable as the defendants.

When it came to head-related injuries, the NFL settled a significant lawsuit.

When it comes to accusing the league of being drug distributors, this case won't be settled. It may be dismissed. It may go to trial. But it won't be settled. The NFL has deep pockets and has some of the best legal minds on the planet at their disposal. There will be no admission of guilt in this lawsuit. Bet your bottom dollar on that. The NFL will.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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