Lawsuit: National Football Teams, Including Steelers, Overprescribed Painkillers To Injured Players

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A number of former NFL football players, including four from the Pittsburgh Steelers, have sued 32 NFL teams, including the Steelers, alleging that the teams prescribed powerful painkillers each season, often without regard to federal law.

In a 127-page complaint — that was sealed by the court — but released by the sports news blog Deadspin, plaintiffs allege that, “Players from around the country describe the same thing — club doctors and trainers providing injections or pills, not telling the players what they were receiving, misstating the effects of the medications (if they addressed the effects at all), and not talking about the need for informed consent or the long-term effects of what they were taking.”

“These doctors and trainers dispensed the medications to their football patients in an amount and manner they would never do with their non-football patients.”

“Certainly there is an abuse. The object is to be out on the field,” says former NFL player and sports agent Ralph Cindrich.

Cindrich says the degree of abuse depends on the teams.

“It all depends what team you’re on — whether your coach — I hate to put it in terms of being an animal or not — but someone who really doesn’t care for the welfare of his players.”

But Cindrich says some players want the medicine no matter the consequences if it gets them playing.

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“The players know — if you’re in the training room, you’re not making the team.”

Among 12 players and one widow who’s suing are four former Steelers: Glen Edwards, Marvin Kellum, Jeff Graham, and Troy Sadowski.

“As far back as the mid-1960s, club doctors and trainers were providing players with controlled substances and prescription and non-prescription pain killers, anti-inflammatories, and sleep aids to get them back in the game as soon as possible, despite being injured, and keep them there,” the complaint charges.

The plaintiffs also allege that the prior testimony of eleven doctors and trainers — including Dr. Anthony Yates, an internist with the Steelers for over thirty years, back up their claims that too many painkillers were used — and were often administered by non-physicians.

“Absolutely, and in my mind, unequivocal,” Cindrich told KDKA’s Jon Delano.

Cindrich says that happened, and it often depends on the head coach and the game.

“If he [the coach] says ‘get this guy back on the field, I don’t care what it takes,’ now a lot of times there is a judgment call, and the player will call and you want to discuss it.”

“There are certain games and situations where if I were a player I would take the shot.”

But Cindrich says, in his view, the Steelers are better than many teams.

“Not trying to be a homer, but as close as I could tell, they did everything by the book. They’re the same doctors I use, would use, so it all fits together.”

The plaintiffs seek injunctive relief to stop the alleged conduct in future games, along with both compensatory and punitive damages.

The Steelers said they had no comment, and Dr. Yate’s office said he was on vacation and not reachable.

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