A January 2008 memo from Vikings head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman detailing the Vikings’ careless record-keeping for distributing prescription painkillers was part of sealed court documents unveiled Friday in a Washington Post story on the federal lawsuit by former players claiming that improper distribution of controlled substances by NFL teams caused long-term health problems.
Sugarman’s memo was only a small part of the material gathered by attorneys representing more than 1,800 former players suing the league’s 32 teams individually in U.S. District Court in Northern California. Large portions of the 127-page complaint, including Sugarman’s memo, were redacted, but the Post wrote that it was able to view that information “because of an apparent technical error in the filing process.”
Jeff Anderson, Vikings executive director of communications, said the team would not make Sugarman available to the media.
“We cannot comment on any active litigation,” Anderson said.
The Post’s story showed how NFL teams violated federal laws governing prescription drugs when it comes to storing, tracking, transporting and distributing controlled substances in a physical sport that relies heavily on them.
According to the sealed court documents, Sugarman in January 2008 wrote to then-head coach Brad Childress and others in the Vikings organization, “Here is week 17’s fiasco.”
The memo went on to say: “There have been several times where the drug sheet and restock sheet didn’t match but it was easily reconciled that day. There have been two incidences of drugs that have not been accounted for at all. 1. 12/17/07 — Missing all 12 pills of cyclobenzaprine. 2. 12/23/07 — Missing all 10 pills of SMZ/TMP 800-160 mg. In the case of the SMZ/TMP the whole bottle itself was missing from the kit.”
Friday, the NFL Players Association responded to the story in the Washington Post and Deadspin.com, which also published redacted portions of the sealed court documents.
“The NFLPA is alarmed by the revelations in the lawsuit filed by former NFL players on the abuse of prescription drugs,” the statement read. “…We will monitor this case closely and take all steps necessary to ensure the health and safety of our players.”
Another Sugarman memo from 2006, his first year with the team, came from the sealed court documents. After a three-hour meeting with team physician David Fischer, Sugarman wrote to Childress lamenting that the Vikings weren’t using the powerful painkiller Toradol as much as other teams were.
“I expressed my concern that the Vikings are at a competitive disadvantage. … I feel very strongly about this point,” Sugarman wrote. “… I feel that Dr. Fischer is beginning to see my point of view on many issues. I also feel he is willing to change to improve.”
The NFL denies all allegations in the lawsuit.
“The NFL clubs and their medical staffs are all in compliance with the Controlled Substances Act,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy wrote in an e-mail to the Post. “The NFL clubs and their medical staffs continue to put the health and safety of our players first, providing all NFL players with the highest quality medical care. Any claim or suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong.”
A Star Tribune review of a lawsuit that originated in Maryland and was transferred to Northern California showed two former Vikings — fullback Chuck Evans and defensive lineman Cedric Killings. Evans, who died in 2008 at age 41, is represented by his widow, Etopia Evans.
According to the 155-page complaint, Etopia said that Evans, who played for the Vikings from 1993 to 1998 and the Ravens from 1999 to 2000, was overmedicated with Vicodin, Percocet and “happy shots,” which she believed was Toradol.
Etopia said Evans wasn’t told of the side effects and became addicted to painkillers and died because of an enlarged heart.
According to the court document, “Mr. Evans died alone in a jail cell — he had been incarcerated two days before his death for failure to pay support for a child from college. He had spent his money on painkillers instead.”
Killings played 34 games for six teams over eight seasons (2000-07). He was with the Vikings for parts of the 2002 and 2003 seasons but never played in a regular-season game.
According to the lawsuit, Killings said his NFL teams often gave him pain pills without telling him anything more than they would get him back on the field.
“Mr. Killings does recall that, during the 2003 season with the Minnesota Vikings, he sprained his right ankle in practice. The next morning, Head Coach Mike Tice told him that, if he was not able to practice that day, he would be released from the club,” the lawsuit said. “Mr. Killings took medications given by the club to ensure that he could practice in spite of the pain in his right ankle. He wanted to keep his job.”
Voice mail messages for Etopia Evans and Killings were not returned.