When Texas Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder was put on the disabled list on Friday — probably for the remainder of the season — I couldn’t help but think of the lawsuit filed a week ago against the NFL by eight disgruntled former players, including three Bears. (Hundreds more are looking to join if the lawsuit is granted class-action status.)
What does Fielder’s injury have to do with football?
Nothing with playing the game but everything with how the retired footballers allege their own injuries were handled. Or mishandled.
Fielder’s season is likely over because of a herniated disc in his neck that will require surgery. Pretty straightforward. However, Fielder’s path to the operating room was anything but.
Despite weakness in his left arm caused by the herniated disc, Fielder continued playing for some time. At least one injection — which didn’t work — was administered.
But who was in charge of the care? Team doctor? Fielder’s own physician? Rangers’ athletic trainer? Fielder’s agent? Team management? I ask because, up until the decision for surgery was made, nothing makes sense.
An athlete with arm weakness associated with neck pain should not be playing. Doing so risks permanent paralysis in the affected limb. But play Fielder did for nearly a month after informing his agent first and the Rangers shortly thereafter.
However, such decisions are far too common when the athlete in question is earning millions per year, $24M in Fielder’s case.
Fortunately, sanity ultimately prevailed.
Something apparently in short supply in the NFL for the players who are suing.
The plaintiffs are blaming management, coaches, physicians, and athletic trainers for misrepresenting the nature of crippling injuries and providing dangerous and addictive drugs so the players could continue performing despite such injuries.
Before rushing to judgment for the players, though, rest assured that in many cases, the athlete insisted on powerful medication to keep playing. Furthermore, these were grown men engaging in a profession they very well knew to be dangerous.
Nonetheless, they had no expectation of being deceived. Former Bear Keith Van Horne claims he played half a season with a broken leg that team medics told him was a bad bruise. Jim McMahon says he was never told but the Bears knew of a fracture in his cervical spine. Richard Dent's gripes are more generic.
Among the larger group planning to join the lawsuit, almost all are alleging that whether they knew the nature of the injury — or not — and whether they asked for strong painkillers — or not — they were never warned of the severe side effects of the medications.
Those given narcotics apparently became addicted. Those given the uber analgesic Toradol have failing kidneys, among other ailments associated with chronic use of that drug.
The players from the concussion lawsuit — some who are plaintiffs again — agreed to a settlement because the argument could be made that until the mid-90s, the NFL truly did not know the long-term effects of repetitive head trauma. In this case, though, the medics should have known the dangers of the drugs and of playing seriously injured but uninformed.
If proven to be true, these latest allegations could be far more financially painful to the NFL than those regarding concussion.
John Doherty is licensed athletic trainer and physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.