Do football players die younger? I was recently in Dallas and had the opportunity to visit Cowboys Stadium. When I read this article, I thought it was very interesting that ‘Study shows NFL players live longer’ and decided to include it as this weeks blog! We hear often about the serious injuries NFL players suffer and I have often wondered what happens to the majority that don’t go on to become speakers, or sports newscasters or celebrities of some king. The recent suicide by Junior Seau, prompted a lot of media coverage and speculation within the NFL field. Read on and let me know your comments below…
A records-based study of retired players conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) concludes that they have a much lower death rate than men in the general population, contrasting the notion that football players don’t live as long.
The findings, emailed Tuesday to about 3,200 former players who retired before 1993, came less than a week after former linebacker Junior Seau’s suicide death at 43, and renewed concerns for the long-term health of players.
“That’s surprising to me because of the blows we took when we played,” said former Oakland Raiders defensive back George Atkinson, 65. “You’d think football players didn’t live as long as the average person.”
Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure, 61, said he’s not convinced. “I think it’s bogus. Just think of the guys who have died before they got into their 60s or 70s. Don’t tell me we live longer. I don’t believe it.”
Of the 3,439 former players in the study, 334 were deceased. Based on estimates from the general population, NIOSH anticipated 625 deaths. The results, completed this year, came from further research after a study requested by the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) was completed in 1994.
Yet the results also revealed that nearly 38% of deaths from the pool of retirees — who played at least five seasons between 1959 and 1988 — were linked to heart disease.
Even so, NIOSH concluded in the study that the risk of dying of heart disease for the retirees as an overall group is lower than that for the general population.
Joe Browne, senior advisor to the NFL commissioner, hailed the study as important for debunking a myth. “During the 1990s, the players union was spreading misinformation among its rank and file about the shortened average life expectancy of professional football players, largely because of heart-related issues,” Browne said.
Officials from the NFLPA and NIOSH were unavailable for comment.
The summary of the NIOSH study was part of a monthly update regarding various issues for retired players. The NIOSH study also found:
• Defensive lineman had a 42% higher risk of death from heart disease when compared to men in the general population.
• Players with a Body Mass Index of 30 or more during their playing careers had twice the risk of death from heart disease compared to other players, confirming traditional concerns about the effects of obesity.
“That makes sense,” Atkinson said. “You’re heart can only carry so much and support so much. Some of guys during the time I played got up as high as 300 plus pounds, and that’s got to weight heavy on the heart as well as the other organs.”
• African-American players had a 69% higher risk of dying from heart disease than Caucasian players. NIOSH stated that it is unsure of what caused the difference, but noted that in general African-Americans have been found to have a higher risk of heart disease.
While heart disease and cancer ranked as the two leading causes of death among the former players, as was the case among U.S. males in 2010, the NIOSH summary sent to the retirees did not account for the causes of the other 36.1% of the player deaths.
NIOSH also stated that it is studying neurodegenerative causes of death among NFL players, which could be revealing in light of increased attention on concussions and head injuries — and dozens of lawsuits against the NFL from more than 1,500 former players.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Alzheimer’s accounted for 3.3% and Parkinson’s was determined as the cause in 4.6% of deaths in 2010, when the average male life expectancy was 76.2 years.
Contributing: Gary Mihoces
First Response’s Comments:
Do football players die younger? This ‘Study shows NFL players live longer’ article sheds new light on this question. Although there seems to be debate as to whether it is actually true, there are some very interesting facts here and it just goes to show, once again, that heart disease and cancer do not discriminate. The topic of neurodegenerative causes of death among NFL players is also a very controversial topic and one has to wonder that the relationship between contact sports and brain related injury and illness is not a coincidence. What are your thoughts on the matter?…