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Saturday, May 25, 2019

Former NFL players die at a faster rate than other professional athletes, study finds

A new study of more than 6,000 former professional athletes found that National Football League players died at a rate that was almost 1.3 times higher than Major League Baseball players. It’s the first to compare mortality rates between two groups of professional athletes; previous studies that compared professional athletes to the general population showed a lower risk of death for football players.

The findings, published Friday in JAMA Network Open, come amid growing concern about head trauma among current and former NFL players and their risk of developing the neurodegenerative disease CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The NFL players died of neurodegenerative diseases at a higher rate than MLB players, though both groups of athletes were more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than brain diseases.

“There is so much press and buzz around the neurocognitive stuff, and that was one of the important things to come out of this,” said Marc Weisskopf, an environmental epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a study co-author. “But for cardiovascular disease, the number was higher, and since it’s more common, let’s not lose sight of the fact that it’s a very important issue.” 

Previous studies looking at mortality rates among NFL players compared them to the general population and found that NFL players tended to fare better. One study from 2012 found that NFL players had overall decreased mortality as well as lower cardiovascular mortality than the general population. Another paper that year also found that overall mortality in NFL players was reduced, but did find that they had rates of neurodegenerative mortality that were three times higher than the general population.

I’d like to think that this sort of thing would help in attracting top talent- then I look at how much money the television networks would lose if football declined in popularity…..

QLE Posted: May 25, 2019 at 06:04 PM | 19 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: football, mortality, players

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   1. base ball chick Posted: May 25, 2019 at 11:32 PM (#5845731)
like, this study ENDS with deaths in 19 freaking 88

like, 30 YEARS ago when the bulking up with massive steroids had just really got going. those guys didn't have some fast moving 300 lb person slamming into them

would have been interesting to compare bad backs/knees/arthritis
   2. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: May 25, 2019 at 11:44 PM (#5845737)
I'm shocked that the sport that pushes athletes' bodies to ridiculous sizes has an effect on longevity.

   3. Jose Goes to Absurd Lengths for 50K Posted: May 26, 2019 at 12:39 AM (#5845744)
Didn’t the Simpsons do a documentary about this fact?
   4. akrasian Posted: May 26, 2019 at 12:40 AM (#5845745)
like, this study ENDS with deaths in 19 freaking 88

Careers through 1988. Not deaths.

But yes, since it started with players in the late '50s, it dilutes the health issues of steroids which really became major issues in the '70s, iirc. And for instance, Anthony Munoz one of the great OTs of all time, made the Pro Bowl in 1988 - but was listed at 278 pounds. There are no OTs close to that weight nowadays.

Still, flawed as this study is - it still shows significant issues with the steroid enhanced sizes of players. I would love to see a study showing percentage of players from the '60s, '70s, '80s', and '90s who die prematurely. That would provide relevant info.
   5. puck Posted: May 26, 2019 at 01:43 AM (#5845750)
would have been interesting to compare bad backs/knees/arthritis


HBO had a documentary in the 80's that shook things up for me, it was hard to see the NFL the same way again. And that did focus on basically on how NFL players would end up crippled. Jim Otto was one of the players they covered, he was hobbled with two really bad knees.

Ah, here it is: Disposable Heroes.
   6. Mirabelli Dictu (Chris McClinch) Posted: May 26, 2019 at 06:57 AM (#5845754)
I remember one of the thoughts I had on finding out 7+ years ago that we were going to have a daughter was relief that she wouldn't be playing football. That is... not good for the long-term health and viability of the sport.
   7. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 26, 2019 at 09:39 AM (#5845758)
Careers through 1988. Not deaths.

But yes, since it started with players in the late '50s, it dilutes the health issues of steroids which really became major issues in the '70s, iirc. And for instance, Anthony Munoz one of the great OTs of all time, made the Pro Bowl in 1988 - but was listed at 278 pounds. There are no OTs close to that weight nowadays.

Still, flawed as this study is - it still shows significant issues with the steroid enhanced sizes of players. I would love to see a study showing percentage of players from the '60s, '70s, '80s', and '90s who die prematurely. That would provide relevant info.


You'll always have this lag. Death rates in general are very very low until people get into their 50's. Studying death rates of guys in their 30s is going to mostly be noise (accidents, homicides, suicides). If you want to see long-term health damage, it's going to appear in their 50's and 60's, which means 20-30 years after they stop playing.
   8. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 26, 2019 at 10:11 AM (#5845761)
Seems like hockey players would also have elevated CTE risk, no? Although probably not as much as football.
   9. Tom Nawrocki Posted: May 26, 2019 at 01:12 PM (#5845779)
Death rates in general are very very low until people get into their 50's. Studying death rates of guys in their 30s is going to mostly be noise (accidents, homicides, suicides)


Those deaths count too. Steve McNair died at 36. John Matuszak died at 38. Junior Seau died at 43. Dave Duerson died at 50. Andre Waters died at 44. Lyle Alzado died at 43. Mike Webster died at 43.
   10. akrasian Posted: May 26, 2019 at 01:36 PM (#5845783)
You'll always have this lag. Death rates, in general, are very very low until people get into their 50's. Studying death rates of guys in their 30s is going to mostly be noise (accidents, homicides, suicides). If you want to see long-term health damage, it's going to appear in their 50's and 60's, which means 20-30 years after they stop playing.

Oh, we agree. That's why the study was structured that way - otherwise, the conclusion would be that playing in the NFL in 2018 was totally safe, at least in terms of mortality.
   11. Sunday silence Posted: May 26, 2019 at 11:44 PM (#5845865)
Not sure why the lead is insisting that this is a first time thing...As I recall it was pretty conventional wisdom that football players were dying at a faster rate. this is like the early 70s and I recall reading at least a couple of articles that said they were living to age 58 or so and baseball players had greater longevity. Then when I started mentioning this to people I found out there was some countervailing articles in the 1990s or so that were contesting this and as far as I could tell the issue was in flux...

But certainly this debate has been going on for almost 50 years and this cannot be the first time anyone has claimed NFl guys were dying sooner. I think we debated this on one of the forums a few years ago and it was hotly contested on the issue of how to count certain marginal players and such. this is not a new issue.
   12. Walt Davis Posted: May 27, 2019 at 01:39 AM (#5845869)
Those deaths count too. Steve McNair died at 36. John Matuszak died at 38. Junior Seau died at 43. Dave Duerson died at 50. Andre Waters died at 44. Lyle Alzado died at 43. Mike Webster died at 43.

Sure, they count. As do the deaths of Darryl Kile, Ruben Quevedo, Walter Young, Jose Lima, Kevin Foster ... and those are guys who died fairly recently and I'm sure it's not a complete list ... and it's not even counting the ones killed in car/plane/boat accidents (some their fault, some not), suicides, proximate drug use, etc. Kile, Quevedo, Young and Lima all died from apparent heart problems before the age of 40; Foster died of cancer.

Even among recent HoFers, Puckett died at 46, Hunter at 53, Gwynn 54, Carter 58 and of course Halladay 40.

The point is it's sufficiently rare that (a) an extra death here or there can lead to a seemingly large difference in rates; (b) it's hard to impossible to tie this in any causal way to whether they played football or baseball. Those sorts of deaths are likely tied to genetic disorders, smoking, truly atrocious diets, drug and alcohol use.

Older folks will remember Jim Fixx who was largely responsible for popularizing jogging in the US. He was widely held up as a paragon of fitness and healthy living. He died of a heart attack at 52 while jogging. From his Wiki page: In 1986 exercise physiologist Kenneth Cooper published an inventory of the risk factors that might have contributed to Fixx's death.[5] Granted access to his medical records and autopsy, and after interviewing his friends and family, Cooper concluded that Fixx was genetically predisposed - his father died of a heart attack at 43 after a previous one at 35, and Fixx himself had a congenitally enlarged heart - and had an unhealthy life: Fixx was a heavy smoker before beginning running at age 36, had a stressful occupation, had undergone a second divorce, and his weight before he took up running had ballooned to 214 pounds (97 kg).
   13. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 27, 2019 at 11:25 AM (#5845890)
Those deaths count too. Steve McNair died at 36. John Matuszak died at 38. Junior Seau died at 43. Dave Duerson died at 50. Andre Waters died at 44. Lyle Alzado died at 43. Mike Webster died at 43.

They count, but they're rare enough to be of limited actuarial value. Walt has already given the corresponding list for MLB.

Death rates in the U.S. for men in their 30s are 2 per thousand. That includes everyone. Drug addicts, guys who weigh 400 lbs, people with childhood cancers that they've survived.

For a pre-screened healthy population like pro athletes it's going to be even less. So, given a few thousand players from each sport, your statistics will be incredibly volatile. Even in the 50's the rates are only 6 per thousand. So, you need a long sample that covers a lot of middle age, given that your starting population is so small.

   14. Sunday silence Posted: May 27, 2019 at 12:36 PM (#5845909)


For a pre-screened healthy population like pro athletes it's going to be even less.


you cant just assume that. For that population Im thinking that accidents and suicides and OD's are the most typical ways of death. ANd I dont think athletes are any less immune. Its also possible they're more susceptible: they have more money for drugs, and they travel a lot more. So no I dont think you can assume this.

There's also the occasional cancer out of nowhere thing that hit guys like Brian Piccolo in NFL or Danny THompson of MIN. I dont think being an athlete helps with that either.
   15. Khrushin it bro Posted: May 27, 2019 at 12:36 PM (#5845910)
Somebody please tell Kyler Murray this information. I want to see him in CF for the A's.
   16. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 27, 2019 at 12:55 PM (#5845911)
you cant just assume that. For that population Im thinking that accidents and suicides and OD's are the most typical ways of death. ANd I dont think athletes are any less immune. Its also possible they're more susceptible: they have more money for drugs, and they travel a lot more. So no I dont think you can assume this.

You can. Group Life Insurance offered through companies can be done on a guaranteed issue basis because the mere fact that someone goes to work every day is a hug positive indicator of health and likeliness of dying.

Just because they're employed, pro-athletes has a lower than average chance of dying. Add in the facts that they are performing at an elite physical level, and the fact that they are getting the best possible health care, and they are going to be much healthier than the general population.
   17. greenback slays lewks Posted: May 27, 2019 at 01:43 PM (#5845917)
You can. Group Life Insurance offered through companies can be done on a guaranteed issue basis because the mere fact that someone goes to work every day is a huge positive indicator of health and likeliness of dying.

It is, and the article goes into this effect, but at the same time, I would not price life insurance for active coal miners the same way I price the general working population.
   18. Sunday silence Posted: May 27, 2019 at 03:12 PM (#5845946)
The REd Hot Chile Peppers should look into this...
   19. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 27, 2019 at 08:07 PM (#5846026)
It is, and the article goes into this effect, but at the same time, I would not price life insurance for active coal miners the same way I price the general working population.

And no one does. But professional athletes get insured for huge sums all the time, and they get very good ratings.

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