In a short new documentary film by Vice, former NFL player Marcellus Wiley goes into detail about his experience using what he sees as a dangerous amount of painkillers during his time in the league.
"No one's in the NFL saving us from ourselves. They know we want to play. They know our spirits. That's the way it should be," he says. "But if [the NFL's] job is to protect, if [the NFL's] job is to make sure this person is going to survive this experience and thrive in his next experience, well, then do your damn job."
Wiley says he was given the painkiller Toradol throughout his career despite having a known history of asthma. The use of the painkiller has been known to cause complications for those with asthma, and Wiley was eventually diagnosed with partial kidney failure at the age of 39 despite having no previous history of kidney disease.
“Every NFL team I played for knew that [I had a history of asthma],” Wiley, who now works for ESPN, says in the video. “They also knew that a guy who had asthma shouldn't be taking Toradol. Did I know that? Hell no. How would I know that?”
Last year, Wiley joined with more than 500 former NFL players to sue the league over its use of painkillers. The lawsuit alleged that the NFL recklessly provided players with painkillers so they could play through injuries -- some of which the players were never informed they had sustained.
When Wiley first joined the lawsuit, the firm representing him said that the San Diego Chargers once told the former defensive end that he had a groin strain. He was provided “multiple injections of an unknown, pain numbing substance” and played through the injury for the entire season.
Unconvinced, Wiley looked for a second opinion, and he found one. A physician told Wiley that he had not suffered a strained groin but rather a severely torn abdominal wall. "The worst I have ever seen," his physician said.
“Look, I’m a grown man. I took this medicine. I get it,” Wiley says in the video. “But tell me the effects."
“[If you] go to the pharmacy right now in the real world, you get pamphlets, you get a bag of information," Wiley says. “They don’t just hand you an envelope without your name on it, with no pamphlets or information, and just say ‘take it.' I wonder why.”
The players’ lawsuit was dropped in December after a judge concluded that the issue should be decided between the league and the players’ union. The judge also wrote that the league has taken steps to address the issue in recent years:
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. 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.
A number of the former players are currently trying to revive the lawsuit.