Killing the Pain: Who’s to Blame?

Posted on May 28 2014 - 2:12pm by Isaac Chipps
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nfl_illo0820Muhammad Ali once said, “suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”

Was he right?

Keep reading. Your answer may change from beginning to end of this column.

It’s the fourth quarter of the biggest game of your career.

It’s the Super Bowl, and your team is down by three points with two minutes left in the game. You’re the quarterback, so your teammates are depending on you to lead them down the field and score the game-winning touchdown.

But here’s the problem: you’re hurt. Earlier in the game you suffered a serious leg injury and your foot is swelling at an alarming rate.

The NFL has become a gruesome game where players must be willing to do whatever it takes to stay on the field, even if it means taking painkillers and drugs they know nothing about.

The NFL has become a gruesome game where players must be willing to do whatever it takes to stay on the field, even if it means taking painkillers and drugs they know nothing about.

But your team needs you. This is the Super Bowl. This is the Granddaddy of them all. Do you play through the pain? Or do you play it safe and watch as someone else steals the limelight and leads your team to glory?

What would you do?

For the majority of NFL players between the 1970s and 1990s, the answer was simple: play through the pain.

No matter if it was a simple bruised shoulder or a serious leg injury that left you hobbling on one foot, NFL players thought they were invincible. To the rest of the world, their physical stature made it appear so.

Whether it was a cortisone shot before games, or painkillers after practices, NFL players did whatever it took to keep themselves on the field and keep their position under lockdown.

Twenty and thirty years ago, this obviously made a lot of sense. Play through the pain and live the rest of your life in glory and rich retirement.

That was until players started learning through their post-retirement aches and pains that many of the shots and painkillers they had taken during their careers were actually killing their bodies.

Jim McMahon was one of the most popular players in the NFL during the 1980s. But now McMahon suffers through the pains of thousands of hits he took during his playing career.

Jim McMahon was one of the most popular players in the NFL during the 1980s. But now McMahon suffers through the pains of thousands of hits he took during his playing career.

Last week eight former NFL players, headlined by former Chicago Bears Super Bowl winning quarterback Jim McMahon, sued the NFL in federal court for “illegally giving players dangerous and illegal narcotics to mask pain and allow those players to return to games when they should not have.”

“It is alleged that the NFL was administering illegal drugs, without prescriptions, and with no warning of their side effects,” the lawsuit says. “Instead of telling players of broken bones and other serious injuries, it’s alleged that teams knowingly hid major injuries. Several players claim that they retired from the NFL addicted to those painkillers.”

The NFL has been through this process before. In August 2013, the NFL settled a lawsuit with thousands of former NFL players for $765 million regarding head trauma and concussions (which was actually rejected because the judge didn’t believe the NFL allocated enough money for the 20,000 players eligible to receive payment).

But now the NFL must batten down the hatches once again and prepare for another long legal battle that will exploit another dark alley in the NFL that has quietly been a part of the game side by side with the concussion battle.

In a 2012 edition of the show “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” correspondent Andrea Kremer reported on the NFL’s high usage of the painkiller Toradol.

For those unfamiliar with the drug, Toradol is a common painkiller used in NFL locker rooms before games.

“You drop your pants, you get the alcohol, they give you a shot, put the Band-Aid on, you go out and play,” Urlacher told Kremer in a Real Sports segment. “Not that big of a deal.”

Although Toradol has tremendous effects before games and helped hundreds of former players play through pain over the years, the drug has serious side effects to the body.

Toradol can lead to kidney failure and gastrointestinal bleeding, something that many former NFL players say the NFL and team doctors never told them about.

Here is another segment from Real Sports showing how many former NFL players have dealt with their severe health problems post retirement (it is quite riveting and depressing).

Toradol isn’t the only painkiller that is used in NFL locker rooms, but the most common.

While on the field Brett Favre was winning MVP's and becoming a future Hall-of-Famer, off the field Favre was quickly killing himself with his growing Vicodin addiciton

While on the field Brett Favre was winning MVP’s and becoming a future Hall-of-Famer, off the field Favre was quickly killing himself with his growing Vicodin addiction

Most people don’t remember this, but in 1996 future Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre almost died because of his addiction to the well-known narcotic-analgesic painkiller Vicodin.

Since then, the problem has only evolved into what is now the next “big issue” in football.

With last week’s official announcement of the lawsuit, we must now prepare to once again learn more and more about the ugly side of America’s most popular sport.

Who’s to blame?

Is it the doctors’ faults for not properly informing players of the side effects and possible outcomes of many of these powerful painkilling drugs?

Is it the players’ faults for not taking enough action and not asking enough questions about the drugs that were so profusely entering their bodies?

I’ve had almost a week to ponder this, and I think I have an answer.

This is a two-way street. If it is true that team doctors illegally prescribed medication and convinced players to overcome their injuries with painkillers and injections, then that is a federal crime and the former players should receive some form of compensation.

But then I think about it again. These former players knew that the game they were playing was dangerous. They knew that with each hit they took, they were choosing to destroy and cripple their bodies. They might not have known how bad the toll would take on their bodies and their state of mind after retirement, but they knew they would suffer the consequences later in life.

I have a hard time believing that these players were to naïve to think that all the injections, painkillers, and drugs they took to stay ahead of their competition wouldn’t have some effect on them later in life.

The glory of the NFL is enticing, but are the consequences and toll the game takes on your body worth the pain many players bear the rest of their lives?

The glory of the NFL is enticing, but are the consequences and toll the game takes on your body worth the pain many players bear the rest of their lives?

In today’s NFL, I have no sympathy for anyone who complains about the pains of the game. After a decade long of exposing the risks and rewards of NFL glory, every player who comes into the NFL today knows the pain and possible consequences that come with a professional football career.

But to even players from a decade ago who did not know or fully understand the risks and liabilities of putting those drugs in their body just so they could finish the game every Sunday, I do feel pity for them.

Not just for the pain they suffer through everyday, but for their families and friends who must suffer with them. No one deserves to watch their loved ones suffer through the pain that many of these former NFL players have been through.

For that reason, I do believe these former NFL players filing a lawsuit deserve some form of compensation.

Maybe they were ignorant for thinking they were invincible. Maybe they are at fault for not taking better care of their bodies.

But for all the people who have been affected by the former NFL players who have died, suffered, and live through the terrible pain, the NFL deserves to give them something back.

They didn’t ask for this, and although they can never get back the men who once captivated this country on Sundays, maybe they can afford to pay the expensive medical bills that come with the pain.

It may not be the answer we want, but this is the reality we must now face.

Prepare to learn about the ugly truth of the NFL, if you haven’t already. It won’t be pretty.

Football is a deadly game. Literally.

1 Comment so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. avatar
    Maureen Hirthler 28 May, 2014 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    Isaac:
    You do a great job pointing out the overview of the problem, but there is plenty of blame to spread around.
    1. NFL owners/doctors: Doctors are team employees and their loyalty is split between the team and the player. The pressure to keep players playing is overwhelming. Some doctors are compromised by the perks of being near the team. The basic doctor-patient relationship doesn’t exist.

    2. Athletes: They have multiple sources for narcotic pain killers, both legal and illegal. Hydrocodone is like locker-room candy.Remember reds in baseball? Players know that use/over-use of these drugs lead to tolerance and addiction.

    3. Big Pharma. Toradol was marketed as a miracle drug. The advised dosages of Toradol, a non-narcotic anti-inflammatory were 2-3 times higher and given more frequently than the currently recommended dose/schedule. Initial doses were 60 mg, now the starting dose is 15 mg. I have heard of linemen getting 120 mg at a time, 60 mg in each butt cheek. This drug in its oral form has one of the highest rates of GI bleeding and is rarely used. A single large dose can destroy your renal function.
    4. The fans – of course. How about Bernie Kosar playing on an unstable ankle ankle fracture?

    This topic will be far more complex than steroids.

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