EX-NFL Players Impacted by Pressure to Play Through Pain
February 27, 2017
SUPPLEMENTAL: In an article published on February 27, 2017 I broke down elements of an ongoing lawsuit between former NFL players and the 32 member clubs of the league. While the stories are different, there are commonalities to each. Every player was pressured to play through injuries facilitated by the use of prescription painkillers. The players charge the league and its teams of misrepresenting and concealing the dangers of the drugs that were administered to them. I included some sample player narratives in the main article but for the sake of brevity (or some semblance thereof) I edited out these compelling stories, but felt they needed to be shared. So here they are. And they are representative of thousands.
Alphonso Carreker, a defensive end, was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the first round of the 1984 Draft and played for the Packers until 1989. He says that while he was with the Packers he took a pill either before the game or at half-time for every game he played. He also recalls that when the team doctor visited the facility on the Thursday or Friday before a game he would ask the injured player what was hurting and tell them “I have a cocktail for that,” prior to giving an injection.
Things were pretty much the same when he arrived at the Denver Broncos in 1989. He says that the trainers there had pills in bags and passed them out to anyone who wanted them. He was also given frequent Cortisone shots in his knees and shoulders in order to keep him on the field. He retired in 1992.
In 2008 he was diagnosed with gouty arthritis as a result of his liver insufficiently processing the amount of uric acid in his body. Gout causes pain, swelling, and poor circulation to his joints.
In 2012 he learned that he had an infection in his heart but the anti-inflammatories used to treat it were ineffective due to the resistance he had built up during his NFL career. In September 2013 he underwent heart surgery to drain the inflammation.
Carreker’s doctors have advised him not to eat beef or pork because of his heart and stomach problems which are known effects of long-term or over-use of the NSAIDS and opioids that Carreker took throughout his NFL career. In addition to organ damage he lives with constant pain in his neck, back, ankles, knees and shoulders and has had surgeries that have provided little relief. He attributes his current health problems to the injuries he sustained playing professional football and the medications that masked them.
Reggie Walker signed as an undrafted free agent with the Arizona Cardinals in 2009 and played there until 2012. He testified at his deposition regarding the pressure players feel to get back in play, “that whole phrase, you’re not going to make the team in the training room, or you have be on the field to – you’re only as good as your last game. That stuff is repeated all the time.” He was released in the 2013-2014 pre-season and landed with the San Diego Chargers.
While playing for the Chargers in he sprained his left ankle during a game against the Bills in September 2014. He sat out the next three games and then played the next three with the aid of Toradol shots before each game and at halftime. The following week was a bye and then he missed the next two games. During that time he felt pressure to return. At a team meeting, head coach Mike McCoy said, “things are not good. We may need to look at other guys if things don’t pick up.” Walker felt additional pressure because the team had no depth regarding linebackers. He was not the only one playing that position hurt. So he played the remainder of the season again aided by two Toradol shots per game. That turned out to be his last season of play.
Walker, who is only 30 years old now experiences numbness from his fingers through his elbow in addition to lower back problems and pain in his ankles, knees and hips. He says his right leg feels shorter and functions differently than his left.
Robert Massey joined the New Orleans Saints in the second round of the 1989 Draft. He remembers about midway throughout the season, he “was on defense going to make a tackle, and the guy stopped and tried to cut back, and I was trying to stop, and I ended up grabbing his facemask…but my ankle rolled.” Afterward he was taken to the sideline, given a Toradol shot and returned to play. He was only out for about a series, and returned to the game because he was worried about keeping his job. Throughout his season with the Saints he recalls many Toradol shots and oral painkillers administered to keep him on the field. He was given no information other than “this will help you with the pain,” or “help with the inflammation.” As a rookie, he felt very pressured to take the medications and stay on the field, as Coach Jim Mora would often remind him, “you got to practice. . .you need got to be ready for practice,” and, “you need all the practice you can get. . .You’re not that good . . .that you can afford to miss practice time.” Despite an X-ray that showed he needed surgery on the ankle, Coach Mora told him, “it’s an injury you can play with.” He was told that play wouldn’t worsen his ankle and that Coach Mora did not want him to have surgery until after the season ended. So he took Indocin week after week, stating when the trainers gave him medication, “they gave it to you to take it, so I took it.” Despite his efforts he was released at the end of the season.
He was then picked up by the Phoenix Cardinals in 1990, where he played through 1993. In 1994 he signed his first large contract with the Detroit Lions. Then in the first game of the season against the Atlanta Falcons, he re-injured his right ankle that had initially been injured while playing for the Saints. He was given a Toradol injection on the sideline by a trainer and kept in the game. After the game, his ankle ballooned. As he sat on the training table, Head Coach Wayne Fonts entered the training room, saw him, along with the swollen ankle and then said to him “Congratulations, you played a great game today. But you know we didn’t pay you that kind of money to sit on the bench… I need you to help us win games.”
Massey didn’t practice much during the next week because he couldn’t run. The Lions’ next game was away against the Minnesota Vikings. On the evening before the game, a trainer gave him some pills, stating they would “help his ankle,” and two hours before the game the team doctor gave him a Toradol shot as the trainer wrapped his ankle extensively. Massey played the entire game and intercepted a pass. He was then given Toradol to get him through the season practicing and playing on a painful and swollen ankle.
In 1996 he was traded to the Jaguars and then joined the Giants in 1997. While with the Giants he found it peculiar that he never saw any doctor or trainer record the medications they dispensed. Upon later review of his medical records from the Giants provided for this lawsuit, no records exist stating that he received Toradol despite the fact that he is sure it was administered.
Throughout his career he received numerous doses of various painkillers to keep him in play. In his deposition testimony he stated, “five different teams, the only thing that was different was the names of the people you dealt with.”
Robert Massey now lives in constant pain from, among other things, his ankles. Like many retired players in his position, he is unable to exercise properly due to the pain and this has resulted in significant weight gain. Massey attributes his current suffering to the many injuries he amounted in the NFL that were masked painkillers.
Jerry Wunsch, was drafted in 1997 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He played in Tampa until he was cut in 2001 and then played for the Seattle Seahawks for three years until 2005.
On November 22, 2003, the night before an away game, Wunsch was experiencing pain down the entire right side of his body. A Seahawks trainer gave him an Ambien to help him sleep, but on game day he was still in excruciating pain. Wunsch recalled the events in his deposition testimony. “I can’t play Coach, I can’t play today. It’s my first game. I just can’t do it.” he said to Coach Mike Holmgren. Holmgren responded by calling a trainer and asking, “what can we do to help Mr. Wunsch play today?” Wunsch was given a 750 mg dose of Vicodin and Tylenol-Codeine # 3, saying they would help, even though Mr. Wunsch was already taking anti-inflammatories as prescribed by his doctors. He played – feeling high – and after half time, the Medications wore off and he told anyone who would listen that he could not play anymore. The trainer responded by giving him another 750 mg of Vicodin for the second half of the game, saying “don’t sue me personally for this.” The 1500 mg of Vicodin and Tylenol-Codeine # 3 was administered within a three hour period, and was in addition to the Indocin he was already taking.
After the game the team flew home to Seattle and Wunsch drove home. He had been so high from the medications that he had no memory of the flight or drive home when he woke up the next morning. A friend who was staying with him expressed concern about him driving in such an impaired condition, stating that Jerry was “totally out of it.”
At one point the Seahawks doctor informed Wunsch that he’d torn his labrum. The doctor told him that if he had surgery for his shoulder his career would be over and encouraged him to keep playing and manage the problem through medication. He followed the doctor’s advice.
The pattern of medicating to keep him in play continued however, and during his three years with the Seahawks he was given large quantities of drugs including in addition to the Vicodin and Tylenol-Codeine # 3, Percocet, Indocin, Toradol and Prednisone injections to manage the labrum issue as well as numerous ankle injuries that were never given time to heal. After the last one, the doctor explained to him that his ankle was so badly damaged that it could not move properly and that was why he fractured his fifth metatarsal; specifically. The doctor said to him “[t]he only reason you fractured the tip of your fifth metatarsal is because your ankle won’t bend.” He went on to tell Wunsch that he would “notify the team your fracture is healed and you will probably be released.” He was released after the appointment.
Marc Dominik of his former team, the Buccaneers, asked him to return as a player/coach and he also received a tentative offer from the Baltimore Ravens but both offers were withdrawn when they learned the extent of his injuries and Wunsch never played again.
Wunsch now suffers from constant joint and shooting nerve pain as a result of his injuries and the manner in which they were addressed. As a result of the painkiller and anti-inflammatory overload, he suffers from an enlarged liver, a damaged pituitary gland, stomach problems and other endocrine issues.
The closest anyone came to explaining or warning Wunsch of the dangers of the medications he consumed in great quantity was the trainer’s “don’t sue me,” remark.
Cedric Killings went undrafted after his college career at Carson Newman, but was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the San Francisco 49ers in April 2000. He was released in August and picked up by the Cleveland Browns in October, but then released by the Browns in November. He was granted free agency in March 2002 and landed with the Minnesota Vikings. During the 2003 season the defensive tackle sprained his right ankle in practice. Killings recalls that the next morning Head Coach Mike Tice stated loud enough for others to hear that if he wasn’t able to practice that day he’d no longer be with the team. Feeling shuffled around enough, he took the painkillers given by the club and practiced in spite of the pain because he wanted to keep his job. He managed to hold on to his spot on the 53-man roster but in spite of his efforts he was inactive for the season and cut once again.
Killings signed with the Washington Redskins in 2004, then released, re-signed, and released again. In November 2006 he was picked up by the Texans as a free agent. Throughout his tenure with the Texans he was given numerous pain-numbing and anti-inflammatory medications to enable him to play through pain.
Cedric Killings’ career ending injury prompted an NFL rule change.
In September 2007 in a game against the Colts, Killings suffered what would prove to be a career-ending injury in a helmet to helmet collision. He was taken off the field on a stretcher complaining of numbness in his lower back and extremities.
A rule change stating that “once the ball has been kicked, no more than two receiving team players can be within two yards of each other on the same yard line,” was implemented as a result of Killings’ injury and that of another Texans player that same year, both of whom saw their careers end abruptly in frightening wedge related neck injuries. Unfortunately for these men, the damage was already done.
In addition to constant pain in his back and extremities due to his NFL injuries and how he was forced to play through them aided with painkillers, he has sustained internal organ damage that he attributes to the painkillers themselves. He required emergency surgery to remove an inflamed gall bladder despite no family history of gall bladder problems. He is also being treated for high blood pressure at only 39 years of age.
Of the players detailed in the brief, Roy Green, who played from 1979 to 1990 may have been the most adversely impacted by the medications he received. The two time Pro Bowl wide receiver played for the Cardinals from 1979 – 1990 and the Eagles from 1991 – 1992. During his career with the Cardinals he developed a painful calcium build-up on his Achilles tendons and was given massive amounts of painkillers by the team’s trainers and allowed to skip practices to ensure that he’d be available to play in games. Much later he learned results of other tests that were performed on him while with the Cardinals, The tests revealed high creatinine levels, indicative of a limitation on his kidneys but no one from the NFL ever informed him of those findings and he doesn’t know which of the team doctors, or for that matter, Cardinals’ staff, was aware of those findings, but he believes someone had to have seen the test results. High dosages of the type of NSAIDS he was continuously given are known to cause renal failure; in November 2012 Green was forced to undergo a kidney transplant as a result of the painkillers that kept him in play and the alleged concealment on the part of the team doctors and trainers he trusted.
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