Over 500 NFL players filed a lawsuit (which I have no involvement in) this week. They claim that the league illegally supplied them with risky painkillers so they could continue to play and win games. These players now allege that the league was negligent and they have resultant medical complications from game injuries that were either ignored or maltreated.

This is not the first time that players face off with the NFL. On August 29, 2013 the league settled over $700 million with players and their families in the NFL concussion-related lawsuits.

NFL games have been celebrated as a national passion. The Super Bowl is considered by some to be a de facto American holiday and is consistently rated among the most watched sporting events in the world. This popularity brings substantial revenue.

This newest lawsuit begs the question: Is the NFL negligent in their treatment of players or are players just looking to cash in on some of the league’s earnings?

According to Forbes.com, in 2011, NFL team values averaged over $1billion each. Television revenues in particular are an increasingly vital part of the NFL’s wealth. A 30-second 2012 Super Bowl ad costs an average $103,000 per second. ESPN pays the NFL $1.9 billion annually to broadcast Monday Night Football. From 2014 through 2022, CBS, Fox, and NBC will pay $39.6 billion to broadcast NFL games.

But the players contend that the NFL makes these billions “. . . by promoting a product of brutality and inculcating in players at every level of the game the false and life threatening ideas that (a) brutal, ferocious, and debilitating collisions are a required and desired outcome in the game of football; and (b) playing despite repetitive head impacts is a laudable and desirable goal.”

The players make a compelling argument. But resolution of this case will be a long, slow process. Assumption of risk and meeting the burden of proof in establishing the league’s negligence/recklessness are only a couple of the many challenges ahead.

To prevail in this suit the players might just need a ‘Hail Mary.’


Barber P, Didinger R: National Football League. Football America: Celebrating our National Passion. Nashville, TN: Turner Publishing, 1996

Cook B: Let’s make the Super Bowl an official holiday. NBC Sports. February 4, 2007. Available at http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/16865062. Accessed April 29, 2013

The Nielsen Company: Guide To Super Bowl XLIII. January 23, 2009. Available at http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/pressroom/2009/the_nielsen_company.... Accessed April 29, 2013

Badenhausen K: The NFL’s most valuable teams. Forbes.com. September 9, 2011. Available at http://www.forbes.com/sites/kurtbadenhausen/2011/09/07/the-nfls-most-val.... Accessed April 29, 2013

Ozanian M, Badenhausen K, Settimi C. NFL team values: the business of football. Forbes.com. September 5, 2012. Available at http://www.forbes.com/nfl-valuations/. Accessed April 29, 2013

Nielsenwire: The Super Bowl investment: ad spend trends over the past five super bowls. January 30, 2012. Available at http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/consumer/the-super-bowl-investment-a.... Accessed April 29, 2013

Searcy T, DeVries H: ESPN political football for cable deals. Forbes.com. September 25, 2012. Available at http://www.forbes.com/sites/dealmakers/2012/09/25/espn-political-footbal.... Accessed April 29, 2013

Associated Press: ESPN, NFL renews television deals. December 14, 2011. Available at http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/7353238/nfl-re-ups-tv-pacts-expand-thu.... Accessed April 29, 2013

McLuskey D, Kuriloff A: NFL signs nine-year extensions of television contracts with CBS, FOX, NBC. Bloomberg.com. December 15, 2011. Available at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011–12-14/nfl-renews-television-contracts-with-cbs-fox-nbcnetworks-through-2022.html. Accessed April 29, 2013

Gerald Allen, Joseph Kowalewski, David Little, Shawn Wooden, and Ron Fellows, original class action v. National Football League and NFL Properties. No. 2:12-cv-03224-AB (E.D. Pa. 2012)

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About the Author

Helen M. Farrell, M.D.

Helen M. Farrell, M.D., is a psychiatrist with Harvard Medical School. She researches forensic psychiatry and violence.

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