A series of emails dating from 2010 shows the Atlanta Falcons, from their head trainer to team management, were concerned about an “excessive” reliance on painkillers to treat players that could embarrass the team and league, according to evidence in a lawsuit by former players.
The emails, obtained by The Washington Post and first reported Tuesday by the Associated Press, were entered into court last week as part of a proposed class-action lawsuit by more than 1,800 former NFL players who contend they were urged to consume painkillers without regard for the long-term consequences to their health.
In May 2010, Marty Lauzon, the Falcons’ newly-hired team trainer, sent an email to Thomas Dimitroff, the team’s general manager, highlighting concerns about the team’s drug-dispensing procedures, much of which was discovered by an outside agency reviewing the team’s practices. “Within the first two days on the job, I was informed that we barely missed a [Drug Enforcement Administration] investigation because of improper billing issues,” he wrote.
Among his chief worries: “high dispensation of narcotics and regular medication compared to other clubs; this creates culture of dependency and goes against healthy lifestyles and care, even for an NFL player. My concern is also with these players at the end of their careers going through medical issues, and also with the ease of access to media outlets that can provide them the opportunity to say they abused or are now addicted to a number of medications.”
Lauzon said the average NFL team spends $30,000 annually on medications, but the Falcons spent $81,000 in 2009. The league has been sensitive to the drug practices of its 32 teams and has worked with the DEA in recent years to provide instruction on safe and legal practices. Lauzon told his bosses the league’s director of player benefits advised the team to “start clean,” which included hiring a new team doctor.
Dimitroff immediately forwarded the note to Falcons owner Arthur Blank, saying, “I thought it quite important for you to be aware of a rather sensitive subject and one we need to discuss before we include others on this topic matter.”
Blank agreed to meet one week later with Dimitroff and Rich McKay, the team president who also shared the exchange with Elliot Pellman, the league’s controversial longtime medical adviser who was forced into retirement last year. The court documents do not make clear what happened next or what further steps the team took to change its practices.
Lauzon is now the team’s director of sports medicine and performance. Dimitroff, asked about the emails Monday night, declined to say anything.
“That’s being litigated now. That’s not something we’re going discuss right now,” he told the AP. “When the time is right, we’ll readdress that.”
Of special concern to Lauzon was a report by SportPharm, which was hired by the NFL to review how teams obtained and dispensed painkillers and prescription drugs. Lauzon noted the Falcons’ “excessive dispensation” of drugs, creating a “culture of dependency,” in his email.
The class-action lawsuit is being heard in the Northern District of California and the allegations were part of a 2014 class-action lawsuit that is before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.