Extra Points: Blame both sides for painkiller abuse

 

The Sports Network

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Young men think a whole lot differently than their older counterparts.

Take Richard Dent, for example.

Dent, a Hall of Famer and the MVP of Super Bowl XX for the Chicago Bears, was one of eight named plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco Tuesday which claimed the NFL fostered a culture that encouraged players to perform while injured, largely by illegally administering painkilling drugs.

"The NFL knew of the debilitating effects of these drugs on all of its players and callously ignored the players' long-term health in its obsession to return them to play," the players' lead attorney, Steven Silverman, told the Associated Press.

Dent claims he suffered permanent nerve damage in his foot from a broken bone suffered during a 1990 game against Seattle. The former pass-rushing star says he needed surgery, but the Bears' medical staff steered him toward painkillers in an effort to keep him on the field.

"Trusting that the doctors and trainers had his best interests at heart (Dent) chose to continue playing," the lawsuit alleges, "and for the following eight weeks, he received repeated injections of painkillers as well as pills to keep playing."

The now 53-year-old Dent understands the 30-year-old version was as naive as it gets.

For the most part, doctors are revered in our society, seen as above the fray by patients who are often scared or simply far too trusting. The Hippocratic Oath (historically taken by physicians and other healthcare professionals swearing to practice medicine honestly) is a romantic notion but often only that.

After all, practicing medicine can be but is not necessarily a calling and all MDs, despite the God complex developed by some, are mere mortals practicing in a profession which can result in substantial wealth.

Theoretically, we all know wealth can breed power in a capitalistic society, and few things in life create corruption more quickly than money and its surrounding accoutrements.

Assuming someone has only your best interests at heart because he is wearing a white lab coat and has a few degrees on his wall is as wide-eyed and unsophisticated as it gets.

Ask Jeremy Newberry, the ex-San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl center who is also part of the lawsuit and discussed being given medications, including the painkiller Toradol, which he claims caused his kidney function to deteriorate to 30 percent.

"I was playing with some injuries I couldn't even walk with. I was in a walking boot for a whole season, never practiced a day the whole season, then I was given painkillers and injection shots week after week at the long-term detriment of my internal health," he told HuffPost Live.

"There were signs of this deterioration in my kidneys back to, like, 2004 (nine years after his career ended), in my blood work and my physicals every year, and every year it got a little bit worse," Newberry continued. "The first time I heard about it was in 2011 when I ended up in the ER for five days getting treatment, trying to save my life and bring my blood pressure down ... I would have quit taking the Toradol and quit taking the painkillers and we would have left my kidney damage at a minimum. But that was never brought to my attention until years after I was done playing."

Mel Owens, another of the attorneys representing the players in this matter, says the "culture of the NFL" is to blame, not the players.

"When you're 22 years old, and you present yourself to the doctor after the game and tell him your shoulder hurts, and he gets on his Dictaphone and says, 'No. 50 has a shoulder injury. We're going to load him up with a Special K', You think, 'Well, this guy's a doctor. He has my best interest at heart,'" Owens said.

"This is what's happening. This is the NFL. It's the NFL's culture. They created it."

Really?

At some point, personal responsibility has to enter the conversation.

After all, consider this bombshell from Newberry:

"There would be close to half the team lined up with their pants down waiting for a shot of Toradol before the game," the two-time Pro Bowl selection said. "The doctor would be standing there with all these needles pre-loaded, and they'd stick them one at a time as they walked by and wipe you with a quick cloth. It was almost comical on the field because you could see the people on the other team who took Toradol too because you could see the red blood stain on their jersey pants."

So 25 or so grown adults on both sidelines are lined up with their pants down before the game and none of them has the testicular fortitude to question what is going on?

Whether you're an NFL player being given advice by a team doctor or a nine-to- fiver asking a primary care physician for help, it's best to understand that you are the one in charge and the person ultimately responsible for your life.

And, realize that's no defense of what went on the league's rather murky past. However, the NFL of 2014 is a lot different than the one Dent and Newberry played in never mind the 1970s version chronicled in the 1979 drama "North Dallas Forty."

In that film, wide receiver Phil Elliott (played by Nick Nolte) is an aging star for the North Dallas Bulls who relies heavily on painkillers to stay on the field.

Detractors say the drug and party culture portrayed in the movie was embellished, but anyone claiming the team-supported prescription drug abuse was overblown now has to call over 500 former NFL players like Dent and Newberry liars.

The players seem prepared to fight on this issue and could certainly produce a mountain of evidence supporting the NFL's willful negligence over the years. But, a well-heeled defense team also will be at the ready with dozens of experts set to refute certain aspects of the players' claims.

For instance, some players who have struggled with health problems over the years were also battling other demons like alcoholism and recreational drug abuse. Others helped create the atmosphere they now claim to abhor in their high school and college days by calling teammates soft for not doing everything they possibly could to stay on the field.

And, finally the money-grab defense against a league which has turned into a $9 billion-a-year enterprise is always an option for the defendants, albeit an unpopular one.

Still, you can see how quickly a black-and-white conclusion morphs into a shades-of-gray defense.

A settlement in which both sides acknowledge some fault is the eventual outcome here.

The most desirous one, however, is that each side doesn't make the same mistakes moving forward.

Read more Football Wires stories from the Miami Herald

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