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NFL trumpets lifespan study to former players

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According to multiple reports, the NFL sent an email to former players on Tuesday, attached to which was the results of a study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health regarding the differences between the life expectancies of NFL players and non-NFL players.

Somewhat surprisingly (in light of the recent focus on head trauma), the study shows that NFL players live longer than men who didn’t play pro football.

The study encompassed former players who spent at least five years in the NFL from 1959 through 1993, covering 3,439 men.

So what does it mean?  For starters, and as Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com pointed out on Tuesday, it cuts against the perception that football pro players generally die young.  We tend to hear more about players who die young than those who live into their 80s and beyond.  And so a sense emerges that NFL players don’t live as long as their non-football counterparts.

Still, the study says nothing about the quality of life for football players and non-football players as both groups get older.  Though the process of aging plays a role in the general physical decline, the study doesn’t address whether former players have a harder time doing things that non-players can do.

And as to the topic of the moment (and possibly longer), the also study says nothing about cognitive impairments resulting from head trauma.

So why would the NFL be bringing this study, which was requested by the NFLPA, to the attention of the players?  With multiple law firms aggressively encouraging former players to join the concussion lawsuits, and with plenty of former players surely conflicted as to whether they should take aim at the NFL (especially if they currently feel perfectly fine), the study could serve as a subtle nudge against biting the hand that fed the former players and their families.  It surely won’t be the deciding factor for many former players, but it could help sway some of them against suing, once they realize that football hasn’t sentenced them to a premature death — and that they might actually live longer than if they had never played.

Of course, that’s perhaps the biggest flaw in all of this.  Men who have the skills to play pro football are, in many ways, physically superior to the men who don’t possess those abilities.  So maybe the men who are the strongest and the biggest and can run the fastest also possess the genetic makeup to survive longer than men not blessed with those traits.  And maybe those men would live even longer if they’d never played football.

These are questions that are impossible to answer, but that naturally arise when attempting to make sense of a fairly superficial comparison between lifespans for members of different occupational groups.

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59 Responses to “NFL trumpets lifespan study to former players”
  1. lightcleric says: May 9, 2012 9:35 AM

    I’m sure an increased lifespan that they can’t enjoy because of brain damage is of great comfort to the former players…

  2. qdog112 says: May 9, 2012 9:36 AM

    This transparent propaganda is meant only for the consumption by the feeble minded. The NFL can’t really expect anyone with a working brain cell to by this – can they?

  3. yahmule says: May 9, 2012 9:37 AM

    NFL linemen have shorter lifespans than their peers. This dovetails nicely with the myriad health issues triggered by the American obesity epidemic amongst the general population.

  4. thankheavenfornumberseven says: May 9, 2012 9:37 AM

    Of course athletes who can play pro football would live longer than an average person if they didn’t play pro football! That doesn’t mean the study is flawed. I think I would take the tradeoff of making millions of dollars playing a game for a living and still living longer than average over living a couple extra years and being an internet troll.

  5. bygd1 says: May 9, 2012 9:41 AM

    What I want to see from The Players and NFL is also a study on Steroid use and its effects on the brain and physical problems these players experience?

  6. cfmaguire9 says: May 9, 2012 9:42 AM

    Frank Gifford alone skews the results of this study.

  7. truthfactory says: May 9, 2012 9:44 AM

    plenty of people work labor intensive jobs for over 40 years that affect the quality of life, but they don’t get compensated millions of dollars for doing so.

  8. geauxjay says: May 9, 2012 9:46 AM

    I won’t believe this until Mary Jo White says it’s true.

  9. geauxjay says: May 9, 2012 9:51 AM

    This transparent propaganda is meant only for the consumption by the feeble minded. The NFL can’t really expect anyone with a working brain cell to by this – can they?

    _______________________________

    No. They expect the public to believe that one team should be punished for this–even if the players who are killing themselves never played them.

    And, sadly, it’s working.

  10. bygd1 says: May 9, 2012 9:52 AM

    I worked 80 hours weeks 12 hour shifts for 20 years handling all kinds of chemicals for Kodak, in NY I cant sue them for my Health Problems today, I worked in Factories for 40 years.

  11. steelerdynasty2010 says: May 9, 2012 9:57 AM

    i think every judge hearing these cases should rule in favor of the plaintiffs and award them the salaries they have already been paid as damages…..this is classic strength in numbers sensationalism at its worst.

  12. jenniferxxx says: May 9, 2012 9:58 AM

    No point in this … you can’t sue over a good thing. Not that it’s all about money … course not.

  13. theashleyguy says: May 9, 2012 10:00 AM

    Actually it would be interesting to see the study and see what time span comparisons were used. Comparing the life spans of men who played in the 1920s and 1930s with average people today would be one thing, but comparing the men who played in the era of steroid use with the average person would be far more useful.

  14. ajknox88 says: May 9, 2012 10:04 AM

    @qdog112
    I’m not sure of your logic in your comment. The NFL is bringing in a study that was done on players from the past, hence making everything in the study 100% true.

    They are not just making this up. Also speaking of working brain cells, I think you mean “buy”.

  15. 1sst1 says: May 9, 2012 10:05 AM

    Why not just do a study of NFL players compared to NBA and MLB players?

    Those are also “physically superior” to most people but doesn’t have the same physical beating and head trauma in their sport.

  16. dvnelson72 says: May 9, 2012 10:06 AM

    a more meaningful statistical study would be to compare longevity of former pro, college, and high school players.

    Furthermore, given the Seau snap conclusions drawn by the media, they should compare suicide rates vs the general population.

  17. nofrets66 says: May 9, 2012 10:06 AM

    “These are questions that are impossible to answer…” — Not at all! There are lots of men with the bodies to play in the NFL who end up not playing for whatever reason. A properly designed study could take into account years of NFL experience, assuming that every player who was at least in an NFL camp had a “football body type”. Then you could see if length of NFL career corresponded to any change in life expectancy. Heck, even just comparing average lifespans of NFL players vs. college-only players would be interesting, and pretty easy given the large sample sizes available.

  18. dudemcdude says: May 9, 2012 10:08 AM

    Their higher level of wealth (which means better healthcare, better diet etc) combined with their genetics, and perhaps more importantly, the fact that they exercise as part of their jobs means that the results of this study are fairly predictable.

  19. dreamcowboy says: May 9, 2012 10:17 AM

    Of course they live longer than the general public because they are starting with 5 yr+ vets it means they didn’t die of a childhood disease they didn’t get killed as teenage drivers. to make it fair compare them to the general public that makes it to 26-27 yrs.old

  20. cd_ridge says: May 9, 2012 10:18 AM

    Length of life does not equal quality of life. The NFL and the NFLPA need to step up with some sort of long term medical benefit for former players

  21. egwett says: May 9, 2012 10:20 AM

    3439 men seems like a big number but when you consider how many men played at least 5 yrs in the NFL over a 34 yr span from 1959-1993 though I have no way of knowing that #, 3439 seems like a very small sample size. Making it easy to think that the men who died young were just left out of this very unscientific??? Poll??? def not a study

  22. dikshuttle says: May 9, 2012 10:25 AM

    I’m sorry – how could you not know that smashing your body into things at incredible force could cause damage.

    If there is evidence that trainers were actively putting already damaged players back into games against the medical evidence, that’s a different case. That’s not what were talking about here, are we?

    Entering the league was a choice they made as adults. They knew the risks. Asking for handouts now is disingenuine, at best.

    Think Arena League guys are suing?! This is lawyers going after cash cows, plain and simple.

  23. expatpatfan says: May 9, 2012 10:25 AM

    This is pretty meaningless unless it looks at quality of life and controls for position. I don’t think anyone is surprised to hear that a guy who had to be in shape and flexible for his adult life (aka, a punter) lives a long time. Conversely, what toll does playing NT have on a body?

  24. daysend564 says: May 9, 2012 10:27 AM

    …unless you were on the ’94 Chargers

  25. mrbigass says: May 9, 2012 10:33 AM

    Who said you could use my picture?

  26. pizzon says: May 9, 2012 10:35 AM

    LOL LOL the Goodell propaganda machine hard at work feeding the uninformed more garbage to laugh at.

  27. geauxjay says: May 9, 2012 10:36 AM

    Earl Campbell may outlive me, but I could walk when I was 40.

  28. pkrjones says: May 9, 2012 10:38 AM

    Life is ALL about choices. Most of us will be working for 50+ years until we either retire (for the last 1-20 years of our lives) or die prior to retiring (my family’s history).
    NFL players earn enough in 5 years of playing to equal most of our lifetime earnings. They should get 20-50 years of “retirement”… who’s better off? I’d choose 5 yrs of work and 20+ years of retirement, 100% of the time.

  29. mp42245 says: May 9, 2012 10:43 AM

    There’s nothing nice about an old ex football player that can’t remember how to wipe his ass because his brain is scrambled.

  30. bigperm33 says: May 9, 2012 10:52 AM

    That the NFL would do this is shockingly arrogant. It is basically telling all former NFL players who suffer with physical pain ignored by the NFL when they are done playing to go F— themselves.

  31. qdog112 says: May 9, 2012 10:55 AM

    The NFL is in big trouble. Think tobacco and asbestos type TROUBLE. Sure the players assumed certain risks, but if the NFL hide research of more risks and also quashed the use of safer equipment that they knew would lesson injuries, expect judgments in the high billions of dollars. For the reading challenged, get someone to explain what’s on this site: http://nflconcussionlitigation.com/

  32. shaunypoo says: May 9, 2012 10:58 AM

    Once it has been conclusively proven that none of the players who are suing have ever used steroids or any other kind of drug, didn’t have any off field concussions, or were otherwise in perfect health, how do we definitivly prove that concussions suffered as players are the reason some of them are suffering from diminished mental capacity now?

  33. lolb23 says: May 9, 2012 11:00 AM

    #1 ANYONE yapping out against all this is not a real football fan. Get lost.

    #2 Somewhat surprisingly (in light of the recent focus on head trauma), the study shows that NFL players live longer than men who didn’t play pro football.
    __________________________________

    Surprisingly to you. It’s pretty obvious to me that people who train year in and year out, eat right year in and year out and generally treat their bodies like temples, live longer than your average couch potato.

    Grow a brain.

  34. qdog112 says: May 9, 2012 11:04 AM

    ajknox88 says: May 9, 2012 10:04 AM

    @qdog112
    I’m not sure of your logic in your comment. The NFL is bringing in a study that was done on players from the past, hence making everything in the study 100% true.

    They are not just making this up. Also speaking of working brain cells, I think you mean “buy”.
    *************************
    You’re right – thanks for the correction on “buy”. The issue is not how long players live and the NFL knows that. The study is the equivalent to saying, “look over there at the shiny object”. It is totally irrelevant to the subject of player safety (work place safety). That is my point. The issue is, could the game have been played safer (through better equipment or rules) and does the NFL have records that show it could have, yet withheld that information from the players? The NFL kinda believes they could have done more, after all, if the game WAS NOT endangering players, why change the rules to make it safer?

  35. mybrunoblog says: May 9, 2012 11:12 AM

    Take time to read the actual story about the NFL players living longer and the study. It really does counter what many of us thought.

    My guess is that former pro athletes have superior physical attributes than the average person and they tend to take care of their bodies better than the average person. Thus, they may live a bit longer.

    That and the fact that they have access to very good health care.

  36. jerlee7 says: May 9, 2012 11:14 AM

    Yes and if you were a soldier your life post duty might be very difficult. or a roofer, your knees will probably hurt, or stock guy your back. What is the point. No one lied to you. The game is physical.

  37. bjtmeyer says: May 9, 2012 11:15 AM

    All I can say to this is that players should know what they are getting into when joining the NFL just by using their common sense. That common sense goes out of the window, however, when all they see is dollar signs.

  38. kidpresentable says: May 9, 2012 11:17 AM

    “What I want to see from The Players and NFL is also a study on Steroid use and its effects on the brain and physical problems these players experience?”

    Steroids affect the heart more than the brain. Check out the deaths of pro wrestlers (other than the concussion-ruined Chris Benoit). In many cases these guys who are in great physical condition on the outside are dying of heart-related conditions because years of steroid use, pain-killers, and drugs like cocaine being used as a pick-me-up have caused their arteries to harden which in turn wears out their hearts.

  39. khuxford says: May 9, 2012 11:19 AM

    Athletes live longer than the average non-athlete? This CANNOT be true.

    A better comparison would be putting NFL players up against non-football athletes.

  40. treesloth16 says: May 9, 2012 11:20 AM

    Goodell is two-faced here. First he punishes the Saints for running a so-called ‘bounty’ program, of which he does not even supply the public with evidence. He states that this bounty program leads to higher levels of violence and injuries, suggesting that this may cause NFL players to have a shortened lifespan.

    Then he releases this research about how NFL players live longer than the average man. Wait, so what is it, football kills you, or football is the fountain of youth? I’m confused here.

    Goodell’s just spinning the story left and right until the brainless masses are confused, and stop caring. He’s just like his poppa, another politician. I miss Paul Tagliabue.

  41. jason49er says: May 9, 2012 11:21 AM

    I hope the players lose these concussion suits and the NFL decides to counter sue all 1,800 of them afterward.

  42. kidpresentable says: May 9, 2012 11:24 AM

    It’s not a surprise they live longer. These guys (especially in recent years) have people paid to feed them and train them. These guys are the best of the best in football which means in school they were probably among the best in other sports. So for the first 30 -35 years of their life, they were probably in peak physical condition before they give up on their dream. Most other guys don’t play a sport after high school other than a beer league softball game or bowling. Common people start letting themselves go at a much younger age. It’s all about diet and exercise and in their profession, they have an advantage.

  43. EJ says: May 9, 2012 11:26 AM

    NFL players generally treat their bodies very good, staying fit, eating right. Non players (regular guys) tend to eat whenever they can, smoke, do drugs and drink alcohol excessively. Its no wonder why NFL players live longer.

  44. olcap says: May 9, 2012 11:27 AM

    I think the reason the NFL released this study is because, deep down, the NFL is not as concerned about concussions as they want us to think they are.

    What else can we think, when the NFL continually talks about doing something about the problem of concussions, but never actually does anything that could alleviate the problem.

    It’s all talk, nothing more.

  45. seaochickens says: May 9, 2012 11:29 AM

    How about a study comparing long term employment in the same context? Most NFL players don’t get a chance to play enouph in situations that would put them in danger. I’m sure these players are already healthier and in better shape than most regular folk. This is the majority of NFL players, who did not sustain careers that put them in the line of fire, but inherited the health benefits of being an athlete that should lead to a longer life span.

    I think if they had a minimum of 5 years employment as a base criteria for employment, the picture might be different…

  46. geo1113 says: May 9, 2012 11:31 AM

    egwett says:
    May 9, 2012 10:20 AM
    3439 men seems like a big number but when you consider how many men played at least 5 yrs in the NFL over a 34 yr span from 1959-1993 though I have no way of knowing that #, 3439 seems like a very small sample size. Making it easy to think that the men who died young were just left out of this very unscientific??? Poll??? def not a study
    ———————-

    While you have no way of knowing…wait actually, you do. All you need to do is go to pro-footballreference.come and you can find out who played, when they played and their dates of birth and death. It may take some database and query skills, but it isn’t that hard.

    As for an estimate for how many played, I can give you one. For 35 years assuming a 53 man roster and 32 teams, that means you would need 59,500 player-years. At an average career of 3.5 years (that is the last number I can recall), that means you would have about 17,000 players from 1959-1993. So the sample of the study is 20% which is large for any statistical study.

  47. rushmatic says: May 9, 2012 11:32 AM

    I wonder what the incidence of traumatic brain injuries and steroid use in those results might be.

    Those who die young seem to be predictably linked to heart or brain conditions.

  48. 611jmp says: May 9, 2012 11:34 AM

    So let me get this straight – these players (and apparently the media) expect these men to voluntarily play a violent game for 3-10 years and then have no “quality of life” consequences? That is absurd. Almost every occupation has “quality of life” consequences. If you sit behind a desk all day your risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease goes up. Desk workers unite! File a lawsuit! Carpet layers have bad knees. Construction workers have bad backs. Secretaries and factory workers get carpal-tunnel syndrome. And none of those people make millions of dollars for their work, and they certainly can’t retire at age 30 or 35. I have no sympathy for these guys who told coaches and doctors “I am OK” and went back in games when they shouldn’t have. They are adults. They have to live with their choices like the rest of us.

  49. seaochickens says: May 9, 2012 11:36 AM

    and I was wrong… 5 years was the minimum to be counted as employment in this. Still, being an athlete, should lead to a longer life.

  50. monkeesfan says: May 9, 2012 12:01 PM

    The study may not be complete, but it dispels a lot of myths. The fact is common sense has shown most former players live productive lives – if players suffer after their careers end that’s not the fault of the game.

  51. thefam3132 says: May 9, 2012 12:04 PM

    Is this a joke? Yes I am sure NFL players live longer than “the general public”. That is because no one in the NFL was born missing an organ and never left the hospital, died in infancy from SIDS, died at age 10 from leukemia, was killed by a drunk driver the night he graduated high school, etc. etc. etc. This is an insane study that means nothing. If anything, all this study proves is that you truly can skew statistics to mean whatever you want them to mean.

  52. geo1113 says: May 9, 2012 12:18 PM

    @thefam3132,

    You obviously didn’t read the study. They compared NFL players with men of similar age and race, so all those items you listed would have no effect on this study.

  53. quadya says: May 9, 2012 12:21 PM

    This lawsuit will go nowhere…

  54. lolb23 says: May 9, 2012 12:26 PM

    No. They expect the public to believe that one team should be punished for this–even if the players who are killing themselves never played them.

    And, sadly, it’s working.
    _________________________________

    Sadly, you are a moron. IF Goodell was going to hand pick ONE team to make an example of, the Saints would be the LAST team he’d pick.

    1, Hurricane Katrina. You’ve been through enough. Everyone feels sorry for you. Goodell is a ginger. Gingers are not the piling on type. Gingers get piled on. They don’t do the piling.

    2. That thing on Drew Brees face. The whole nation has been feeling sorry for this poor guy ever since Oprah tried to wipe it off his face.

    3. It’s New Orleans. EVERYONE loves NO. It’s where we go to party and see boobs.

    4. Your name is the Saints.

    IF Goodell was going to hand pick 1 team like you suggest, he’d pick the Browns, or Jags or Bills. A team NO ONE cares about or would even notice.

    This is BAD pub for the NFL. Much more than it is for your favorite team. Wake up. They did it. They’re dumb. They got caught. They were warned, and they kept doing it.

    Stop lying to yourself.

  55. woodwizard says: May 9, 2012 12:35 PM

    In some ways this discussion says that pro football players suffer more in later life and it is more dangerous than other professions. Consider this: I am a Vietnam Veteran, I went down in a helicopter during combat. At this time I am experiencing severe problems with my back and am on morphine for pain. I have schrapnel in my right knee and have severe problems with my left ankle. Not to mention PTSD. I have difficulty walking, and need to lie down throug the day. So, while I do hope they improve on the players safety and do more in their transition to outside football life, I don’t think their experiences are so severe when compared to others. I volunteered for my service, I earned a salary that pales in comparison and after I left service, I was mostly left to my own means. Only recently has the VA become more veteran centric. I am proud of my service and would do it again. Put this discussion in perspective. People do put themselves in harms way, at least pro football players aren’t being shot at by people that want to kill them.

  56. dvnelson72 says: May 9, 2012 12:36 PM

    for those saying that pro athletes are in better shape than the general population, I ask you to look at the guts on the OL and DT. These are the guys that come into every camp overweight. You think most of them stay in shape without a paycheck?

  57. bluvayner says: May 9, 2012 12:55 PM

    Some miss the point. This study was NOT done by the NFL. The study was done by NIOSH. It’s not just an NFL spin attempt, the government did the study.

    The study compares “the lifespans of different occupational groups.” So you’re comparing people who all lived through childhood, and got jobs in one field or another.

  58. ggreen7 says: May 9, 2012 1:22 PM

    It’s not the head trauma that causes some of these players to commit suicide. It’s the boredom of finding themselves out of football and with no structure in their lives. The “family time” they envisioned they would enjoy during retirement turns into arguments with their wives and often times divorce (such as with Junior Seau). That leads to depression and ultimately to a tragic end in some cases. The concussion arguments are just a red herring.

  59. mjack2 says: Nov 2, 2012 5:26 PM

    I seem to remember another that say right that they have shorter lifespan they both can`t be true

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