SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge Wednesday dismissed a class action accusing the NFL of giving football players dangerous painkillers to mask their injuries.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup found the lawsuit brought by more than 500 former players must be settled under the collective bargaining agreements between the NFL and the players’ union, as the crux of the claim is that players’ teams mistreated them, and that the league did nothing to stop it.
The lead plaintiff was Richard Dent, a former Chicago Bear.
“One problem is this: no decision in any state (including California) has ever held that a professional sports league owed such a duty to intervene and stop mistreatment by the league’s independent clubs,” Alsup wrote.
Alsup ruled that while the agreement’s medical care provisions may not be perfect, and its protections may not specifically discuss prescribing drugs and painkillers, “this is not a situation in which the NFL has stood by and done nothing.”
“The main point of this order is that the league has addressed these serious concerns in a serious way – by imposing duties on the clubs via collective bargaining and
placing a long line of health-and-safety duties on the team owners themselves,” Alsup wrote in his 22-page ruling.
“These benefits may not have been perfect but they have been uniform across all clubs and not left to the vagaries of state common law. They are backed up by the enforcement power of the union itself and the players’ right to enforce these benefits.”
He continued: “Given the regime in place after decades of collective bargaining over the scope of these duties, it would be impossible to fashion and to apply new and supplemental state common law duties on the league without taking into account the adequacy and scope of the CBA duties already set in place.”
At a hearing in October that signaled Alsup’s decision, he said: “The union is supposed to be looking out for the plaintiffs. The labor union is the one that is supposed to be doing this.”
Alsup ordered that the players’ union weigh in on whether the retired players could still arbitrate their grievances.
The union complied with that order, and Alsup, who found that the players’ retiree status should not bar them from arbitration, quoted the union’s letter in his ruling. “On this issue, the union’s letter has explained that ‘the current CBA and former CBAs have included various provisions negotiated on behalf of current and future players that continue to benefit those players after they retire from the NFL,’ such as provisions on retirement plans or termination pay,” Alsup wrote. “In fact, former players in other cases have been able to arbitrate their grievances against the NFL or individual clubs, notwithstanding their prior retirement from the league.”
Though Alsup found the issue should not be decided in federal court, he said: “This order does not minimize the underlying societal issue. In such a rough-and-tumble sport as professional football, player injuries loom as a serious and inevitable evil. Proper care of these injuries is likewise a paramount need.”
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