‘We’re not medical students’: Marcellus Wiley reflects on painkillers in the NFL

Former Pro-Bowl defensive end Marcellus Wiley knows first hand that while the NFL still has room to improve in many areas, it’s been heading in the right direction in one.

The NFL gets a lot of flack on the way it handles a litany of issues, but one area where Marcellus Wiley sees an improvement is the relationship between players and trainers, specifically on what medicine players are putting in their bodies.

When Wiley came into the league in 1997 he can attest that it was very common for players to come into the facility, explain their various ailments and to be handed pills without any information about them.

“You don’t know what you’re taking, how to pronounce it, you don’t have any pamphlets or brochures,” Wiley said. “Then you get on the team plane and we’re drinking alcohol with those same pain pills there.”

One of the most common painkillers Wiley took during his 10-year career in the league was a pill known as Vioxx. It was approved by the FDA in 1999, and as Wiley recalls was like a stronger form of Advil. It wasn’t as strong as injections that players received on game days, but for Wiley it was a wonder drug.

“Literally I could walk into the facility not feel good — soreness, bones aching — take a Vioxx, amazing practice,” Wiley said. “It got me through the day to day, but when you look it up they banned it from the NFL because it causes heart disease and strokes.”

Vioxx was recalled by the FDA in 2004 after the company that marketed it, Merck & Co., failed to disclose the risks associated with using high dosages of the medicine to doctors and patients. Whether it was because of Vioxx being recalled or the overall advancement of how the NFL operates, Wiley started to notice a change in procedure later in his career.

Instead of being blindly handed a pill without knowing the risks and side affects of it, Wiley, who is promoting his book Never Shut Up, says that trainers were doing a better job of explaining to players what each drug was and why they were taking it.

“All of the sudden now you are informed, more enlightened. They would go through the proper process that normal people go through when they go to the doctor’s office,” Wiley said. “Respect to the NFL for trying to change it, but obviously a lot of people got chewed up and spit out in that process.”

It wasn’t just about being handed medicine with no information to back it up, it was the way the system was setup. If players opted not to take whatever pill a trainer is handing them, there is a chance they might not be able to play. So in order to stay in the league it was better to take what the trainer was giving them to get back on the field.

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“We’re not medical students. Even if you tell me the information, please just let me know if this is good or bad for me,” Wiley said. “I didn’t go to school for what you just handed me, but you did and I trust that you said it’s going to be something that helps me, and never comes back to harm me.”

Although Wiley played during an era where there was little information given to players on the medicine they were given, he notices now that players are asking questions, and NFL trainers are making players more aware of the medicine they’re being handed.

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