When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell appeared at the Jets facility yesterday, the headline quickly became rookie safety Jamal Adams saying he’d be content to die on the football field.
But if you take the words of Goodell at face value, Adams might not have to, because football is apparently good for you.
In talking about the topic of health and safety, Goodell pointed out that professional athletes actually have longer lifespans than non-professional athletes.
“The average NFL player lives five years longer than you,” Goodell said. “So their lifespan is actually longer and healthier. And I think because of all the advancements, including the medical care, that number is going to even increase for them.”
He said it with a straight face.
We asked the league for clarification on the numbers Goodell was referring to, and they passed along a 2012 study from the Centers for Disease Control. The study was conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which studied the age and causes of death of players who spent five years in the league from 1959 to 1988.
The study showed that the players involved were not only living longer, but had lower rates of cancer and heart disease. In the summary, it actually includes the sentence: “We realize that professional athletes are physically unique compared to the general population.”
While seemingly obvious, it’s the kind of thing that’s lost in the messaging, when the commissioner is selling the apparent health benefits of playing football.
To his credit, Goodell acknowledged that Adams was speaking (we think) rhetorically.
“What he was really making the point of is how much he loves the game and how passionate he is of the game — that he loves playing it, and it’s just something that means a great deal to him,” Goodell said. “I think the fans understood the emotion of what he was saying.”
That’s fine, as long as they also understand the emotion of Goodell saying athletes living longer isn’t necessarily the same as athletes living better lives. While there might be holes in the recent study that showed 110 of 111 donated brains of former NFL players showed evidence of CTE, there remain legitimate questions about the long-term effects of the game.
We may not know what they are. But most reasonably intelligent people would conclude that a lifetime of collisions with other large professional athletes might not actually be conducive to your health, no matter how the commissioner tries to sell it.