Search

Dead Wrong

May 21, 2012
May 21, 2012

Table of Contents
May 21, 2012

LEADING OFF
GOLF PLUS
THE MAIL
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
TIM DUNCAN
  • Tim Duncan is the most successful player of his generation, maybe even its best, the foundation of yet another Spurs team built to win it all. So why haven't you fallen for him? The reasons aren't all black-and-white

BASEBALL
  • That's the question surrounding one of baseball's crown jewels as the sport enriches its young stars with an unprecedented urgency, changing the economics of the game

  • Eric Hosmer isn't the only exciting young player whom teams should try to keep under control for as long as possible. These coming stars are next in line for a long-term contract

NHL PLAYOFFS
OLYMPICS
Jabari Parker
Departments

Dead Wrong

Two studies refute reports in the media about former NFL players' life expectancy

With Junior Seau's death putting the spotlight back on the health of retired NFL players, journalists and radio hosts last week recycled a scary statistic. As ABC News reported it: "The average life expectancy of a retired football player is 58, according to the NFL Players Association ... a stark contrast to the average American man's life expectancy of 75."

This is an article from the May 21, 2012 issue

The trouble is that this oft-repeated number (sometimes 58, other times 55) is false. That bit of gridiron legend has been around since at least 1990, when the NFLPA asked the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to investigate the statistic's accuracy. NIOSH tracked nearly 7,000 players and issued a report, in '94, concluding that NFL retirees were dying at about half the rate of their American male peers. In other words NFL players, in general, live longer.

In January, a second NIOSH report again found that NFL players were outliving their non-NFL cohort, partly due to lower cancer rates that could be the result of their lower rate of smoking. NIOSH also found that former players were at a decreased risk of dying from heart disease (with the exception of players who had a high body mass index). And the rate of suicide among NFL vets was 59% lower than in the general population. Overall, for the 3,439 ex--NFL players in the more recent study, NIOSH projected 625 deaths, using nonathlete mortality rates, but observed only 334 (chart).

The NFLPA tells SI that it did not provide the number used in the ABC News report, so it is difficult to know why the age 58 figure is still being disseminated. Certainly the current public discussion about player health is an important one to have. But for the good of those same players, it should remain grounded in data.

ALL CAUSES

[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]

625 EXPECTED*

334 OBSERVED

CANCER

147*

85

HEART DISEASE

150*

113

SUICIDE

22*

9

DEATHS AMONG 3,439 NFL PLAYERS 1960--2007

*Based on general population

FOUR CHARTS