Perhaps, it was inevitable, but it’s no less disturbing given the epidemic of prescription drug overdose. Now the National Football League stands accused of damaging players’ health by addicting them to prescription painkillers—even though safe, natural alternatives are available.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, eight former players—including Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon and Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent— say they received dangerously high doses of painkillers, just so they could continue to play.
What does it take to play in the NFL? Former Dallas Cowboy Pete Gent, a critic of the game, summed it up this way, “My teammates...[possessed] the rare combination of great athletic skill, commitment, dedication, discipline, desire plus the willingness to sacrifice [their] physical, mental and emotional health.”
Scandals involving drugs use in sports are nothing new— from steroids that build strength to “blood doping” for endurance. What’s different here is that NFL players were allegedly manipulated into taking drugs that masked their injuries so they could put themselves at even greater risk on the field.
Without commenting on the merits, this case is another warning about the risks of over prescribing narcotics for pain. Whether it’s Phillip Seymour Hoffman or the 15,000 other people who die annually after prescription drug overdose, it’s a slippery slope from relief to addiction.
In the hyper-competitive world of professional sports, it’s easy for players and owners to blur the line between wanting to win and winning at all costs. Since pro athletes are role models, stories alleging drug abuse in sports can send the wrong message about the price of success.
While prescription painkillers aren’t strictly a nuclear option, they should be only used sparingly. The players in the NFL suit say that didn’t happen. However, there is another way.
Why not equip NFL locker rooms, or all training facilities for that matter, with safe, natural pain relievers? They contain anti-inflammatory ingredients that have been used for centuries to ease aches and pains. Crucially important here: they pose no risk of addiction.
This current action includes more than 600 NFL former players who claim they suffered severe, long-term injuries from drugs that weren’t legally prescribed or appropriately given. If they didn’t take the treatments, the plaintiffs say, they risked losing their jobs and ultimately their professional careers.
NFL attorneys declined to comment on the suit.
Sports, particularly at the professional level, will never be injury free. That doesn’t mean efforts to relieve pain should damage the players’ health and undermine the integrity of the game. There is a natural solution that’s a win-win for everyone.