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Ex-football players sue NFL, claiming 'culture of drug misuse'

By Carey Gillam and Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) - A group of retired pro football players sued the National Football League on Tuesday, saying they were illegally fed painkillers and told to play while injured to keep massive profits flowing to the league for three decades.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, could turn into another black eye for the NFL, which last year agreed to pay $760 million to thousands of former players who filed suit claiming the league downplayed the risk of concussions.

An NFL spokesman declined to comment on the new lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of eight NFL players who were active between 1969 and 2008 and seeks class action status on behalf of 500 others.

"In contravention of federal criminal laws, the NFL has intentionally, recklessly and negligently created and maintained a culture of drug misuse, substituting players health for profit," the plaintiffs say in court documents.

The suit claims that as players have gotten bigger and the season longer, injuries have become more common and serious, prompting the NFL to rely on pain medication to keep the players on the field and revenues coming in.

Among the named plaintiffs are Keith Van Horne, an offensive tackle with the Chicago Bears from 1981 to 1993 who according to the lawsuit played an entire season on a broken leg, wearing a special boot to reduce swelling in the limb.

"He was not told about the broken leg for five years, during which time he was fed a constant diet of pills to deal with the pain," the lawsuit says.

Also named is former star quarterback Jim McMahon, who according to the lawsuit was given "hundreds, if not thousands" of injections from team trainers over the course of his career and ultimately became dependent on painkillers.

The suit seeks unspecified compensation for long-term injuries suffered by players as well as financial losses, pain and suffering and monitoring of future medical issues, as well as punitive damages.

More than 4,500 former pro football players sued the NFL in 2012, claiming the league hid the dangers of brain injury from players while profiting from the sport's sometimes violent physical contact.

In January, a judge rejected the proposed $760 million settlement reached between the two sides, saying it might not be enough to pay up to 20,000 former players who might be eligible for payment.

Attorneys for both sides have said they believe the judge will approve the settlement after they submit further documentation.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Missouri and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid and Eric Walsh)

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