SB Nation: An Article on the NFL Mortality Rate

Last week, came out with an article about player mortality rates in the NFL, sparked by the death of linebacker Junior Seau. In 1990, the NFL Players Association contacted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is part of the Centers for Disease Control, and asked them to do a study on mortality rates among former football players. The results of that study do not seem too surprising:

NIOSH conducted a records-based study of 3,439 retired players with at least five seasons of service between 1959 and 1988. The results, released in 1994, revealed that retired NFL players actually lived longer than the general population of American men of a similar age and racial mix. (See the fact sheet from the 1994 study here.)

The results of a follow up study were published in January of this year, and the amount of anticipated deaths (625) remained significantly lower than the amount of actual deaths (334).

One of the reasons that football players have a higher survival rate is the shape that they are in:

"Elite athletes like football players are highly physically fit, and there's a certain selection factor as to who gets into the sport to begin with," Baron said.

"There's one thing in occupation health we call the healthy worker effect. Just by virtue of people being in the workplace, and in this case it's a highly selective workplace, it means that those people who become sick are selected out."

Parts of the study also took a look at heart disease, where it was found that defensive linemen have a higher risk than the general population:

The study also found higher mortality rates among offensive and defensive linemen. Defensive linemen had a 42 percent higher risk of death from heart disease compared with the general population.

Linemen fall into the group of players with a higher BMI, thus an increased risk. Why defensive linemen were at a higher risk than their counterparts on the other side of the ball is a subject for further study. Baron noted a higher number of African-American players among defensive linemen versus offensive linemen, but the study statistically controlled for that.

"One potential hypothesis is that for whatever reason defensive players may be less likely to take advantage of prevention and treatment," Baron said. "That's just one theory because as I said we don't have info on people and what happened after they stopped playing. "

NIOSH is not finished with publishing their results; it'll be interesting to see what their study found on neurodegenerative causes of death.

The next study from NIOSH examines the neurodegenerative causes of death, such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and ALS. The study is complete; however, Baron was unable to discuss details because it is still in the review process. It should be released soon.

For more details on the article, check it out over at

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