Painkillers in the NFL

painkillers in the NFL, sport, american football, britball, gridiron strong

Painkillers in the NFL

After watching a series of videos by Vice Sports called Painkillers in the NFL I was left shocked but not totally surprised. According to Vice Sports, more than 1,000 former NFL players are addicted to painkillers.

In a series of interviews with ex-NFL players, you become horrified to learn of past team doctors pushing to keep players on the field through concussions, continuous muscle strains and broken bones, despite their medical duty ‘to protect’.

Here are some quotes from the short films which struck me-


‘are you hurt, or are you injured?’;

‘are you a pussy, or are you tough?’;

‘can you take it, or can you not?’;

‘that smack ends up being something that you look for’;

‘already hurting’;

‘trust someone who does know that’;

‘deal with the pain and play’;

‘people running to get their [painkiller] shots’;

‘become more angry, become a different player on the field. And they love that’.


As a team Sports Therapist working with several American Football teams it is horrifying to hear of senior doctors ignoring such serious injuries and returning individuals to play as soon as possible. And by doing so, placing these athletes at further risk of long term harm.

Yes, we now know far more than previously. However, when a player experiences great pain in one leg but is given medicine to ‘numb’ this pain, it becomes clear that the doctor’s priorities lie with the team and not with the individual player’s health.

Indeed, former NFL offensive lineman Kyle Turley, states ‘they only cared for the interim of what I was able to do’. Players of this era seem far from educated in injuries and concussion, which in my experience is slowly changing. I myself educate my patients whilst treating to enable them to manage their injuries and to understand what has and is happening to their bodies. This is the aim of Gridiron Strong and one of my philosophies as a therapist.

A ‘Culture of risk’

Unfortunately, I am sure you will always find athletes who will play through the pain for the glory and money which comes with the game. Indeed, literature in sport supports this notion of a pressure to play within a ‘culture of risk’.

One final area which struck me was that of ex-athletes who use street drugs to manage pain due to the great expense of insurance. It was shocking to hear these past game-hero’s speak of their attempts to take their own lives due to the immense pain suffered.

Thankfully I am lucky to work with American Football coaches who listen to my advice, and will remove a player from the game if needed.

On a final note, I am aware that these films speak of old practice within the NFL. However awareness to educate future players and practice is greatly important in my professional opinion. Drug misuse and the clear neglect of players holistic (physical, psychological, nutritional) care is something we as coaches, and medical practitioners, cannot allow to continue.


To watch the films, click here –


Painkillers in the NFL: Kyle Turley on Playing Numb

Painkillers in the NFL: Nate Jackson on ‘hurt’ vs ‘injured’

Painkillers in the NFL: Marcellus Wiley & the False Choice

Painkillers in the NFL: Keith McCants on the War Within 



I would love to hear your views, so please comment below.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Solve : *
14 + 24 =