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Drawing on an extensive archive of media texts collected between 2014 and 2019, we trace shifting representations of the National Football League in discourse on painkiller use among its players. We argue that in contrast to earlier eras, an image of the league as an exploitative and corrupt institution has come to the fore. Clustered around the announcement of a series of player lawsuits, these discourses are tempered by the persistence of narratives of personal responsibility and the elision of racial logics that predetermine athletes’ subjection to pain and injury. Situating our analysis in the context of the drug wars and the profit motive of the National Football League, we argue that these discourses both reflect and contribute to the workings of racial capitalism across the professional football and pharmaceutical industries.