SAN FRANCISCO — The NFL Players Association told the federal judge hearing a lawsuit against the league that the collective bargaining agreement did not provide a way for the union to press claims by former players that NFL teams routinely mishandled painkillers.
The filing Wednesday by the NFLPA came in response to questions raised by U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who said he wanted to determine the union's position in the case before considering the NFL's motion to dismiss. The lawsuit was filed in May in the northern district of California and now includes more than 1,300 former players. Nine players have been named as plaintiffs, including Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent.
In a hearing last month, the NFL argued it is not responsible for the medical decisions of its 32 teams and, further, that the issue should be addressed by the players' union, which negotiated a collective bargaining agreement that covers players' health.
But the union's filing said it "does not believe that any provisions of the current CBA or any provision of any former CBA would cover the specific claims asserted by the putative Dent class, and therefore the NFLPA does not believe that the specific claims asserted by the Dent class were or could have been grieveable."
The lawsuit alleges the NFL and its teams, physicians and trainers acted without regard for players' health, withholding information about injuries. At the same time they were handing out prescription painkillers and anti-inflammatories to mask pain and minimize lost playing time. Among other claims, the players contend prescriptions were filled out in their names without their knowledge.
Federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents conducted spot checks last Sunday of at least five NFL visiting teams' medical staffs as part of an ongoing investigation. The probe was sparked by claims in the lawsuit from former players, including dozens who said the teams' lax controls over dispensing painkillers continued until 2012. Any violations of the Controlled Substances Act after 2009 could be used in a criminal investigation.
There were no arrests made, but DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said Sunday that "agents are currently interviewing NFL team doctors in several locations as part of an ongoing investigation into potential violations of the CSA."
The next hearing in the lawsuit has not yet been scheduled.