Korey Stringer's widow sued the NFL in US District Court on Monday, saying the league fosters a "deadly culture" of abusive exercise that contributed to the death of the Minnesota Vikings' lineman.
Stringer died of heat stroke during training camp in 2001.
The suit seeks unspecified financial damages and asks the court to stop the NFL from forcing players to practice and play in high heat and humidity. It says NFL coaches, trainers and doctors subject players to potentially fatal conditions by forcing them to participate in practices while wearing improper clothing for such conditions.
"A perverse, insidious and deadly culture has existed and continues to exist among NFL coaches, which unreasonably subjects player to heat-related illness during practices, ostensibly out of the twisted belief that players benefit from being subjected to such working conditions," the lawsuit says.
Stringer, a 335-pound Pro Bowl lineman who played at Ohio State, collapsed July 31, 2001. His body temperature was 42.6 degrees Celsius when he arrived at a hospital. He died 15 hours later.
The lawsuit names the NFL, sports equipment maker Riddell Inc of Elyria, and Dr. John Lombardo, a Columbus sports physician who the lawsuit says is a member of the NFL safety and injury panel and advises the NFL on health issues. Lombardo is the head of the NFL's drug program.
"We have not seen the lawsuit and cannon comment on the substance of it. We share the Stringer family's sadness, but we are surprised and disappointed that the approach to this tragedy is to continue to pursue a strategy of litigation," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.
A message was left for Lombardo; no phone number could immediately be found for Riddell.
Kelci Stringer earlier sued the Vikings and the team's training camp doctor, David Knowles. A Minnesota judge dismissed her claims against the team and she later settled with Knowles for an undisclosed sum. Her attorneys said at the time they planned to ask the state appeals court to reinstate the claims against the Vikings.
The league has said it already made changes after Korey Stringer's death. Before training camp opened in 2002, the NFL consulted with several experts and held a series of discussions and seminars on the subject.
The league banned the herbal stimulant ephedra and began random testing for it last summer after learning that dietary supplements increased the risk of heat-related illnesses.
A bottle of Ripped Fuel, which contains ephedra, was found in Stringer's locker after he died, though Stringer's remains weren't tested for the substance during investigations of his death.