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Shula Named In Connection With New Suit Against NFL

He And Other Coaches Allegedly Coerced Players Into Taking Painkillers

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The National Football League, as has come to be expected in recent years, is once again being targeted by former players, their families and others, in yet another lawsuit making its way through the courts, this time for the alleged misuse of painkillers, and the purported insistence that players take them to get back on the playing field faster,  or risk being waived by their respective teams.

Pro Football Talk reported Sunday that this latest suit, after the first one was thrown out by the courts eighteen months ago, has now been modified, going after individual NFL teams, rather than the league itself. By amending the claims of wrongdoing from negligence to outright intentional misconduct, the plaintiffs have managed to get the suit past the lower courts and into the next round of litigation.

Former Dolphins head coach and Hall of Fame inductee Don Shula is among the coaches named in the complaint, along with former NFL head coaches Wayne Fontes, Mike Holmgren, Mike Tice and Howard Schnellenberger. Although Schnellenberger is most often remembered for winning a National Championship at the University of Miami, he was also the head coach of the Baltimore Colts, in 1973-74, and even managed to hand Shula's Dolphins one of their two losses, as defending Super Bowl champions, on December 9th, 1973. He also served as the Dolphins' Offensive Coordinator from 1975-78.

The billions of dollars the NFL brings in annually, coupled with many former players' propensity for ending up virtually penniless after having earned millions during their playing careers makes this latest lawsuit no surprise; just last week, former Vikings and Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson announced that despite having earned more than twelve million dollars in the NFL, he is now essentially broke.

Still, the case looks to be a hard sell, simply because of the burden of proof required by the plaintiffs.  If Don Shula, or any other coach, gives a player a withering glance and says, "Son, you're already on thin ice as it is; I strongly recommend that you find a way to get back in there, because if we don't win this bleeping game, some heads are gonna roll," how does that constitute coercion to take painkillers? How far this latest suit goes, and whether or not the league opts to settle out of court, remains to be seen.