As a former NFL player, I am very passionate about the issue of NFL players dying at such a young age.
I was really impressed with an article written by Peter Gray, PhD about the five major reasons why this tragedy is happening and why it needs to change for the future (and aspiring) players of NFL.
Dr. Lee Nadler, the Harvard Medical School dean who will head the research project, said: “We are not trying to change the game; we are trying to change the impact of the game.”From “$100m to Know Why NFLers Die Young? Here’s Why, For Free”
Football is a brutal sport that shortens lifespans for well-understood reasons.
By Peter Gray, PhD
Dr. Gray’s article, written in early 2013, states that the NFL had just agreed to pay Harvard University $100,000,000 to learn why so many retired pro football players suffer lots of health problems and die about 20 years earlier than other males in America.
Dr. Gray takes umbrage at the idea the NFL is operating from callous disregard for the well-being and safety of the players while constantly claiming health and safety as their top priority.
Gray cites five major reasons why NFL players (and the thousands of wannabes who never break into the pros) suffer needlessly:
1. Grossly overweight:
The average NFL player weighs 250 lbs., too heavy for the average 30-year-old.
The average lineman is over 300 lbs.
Linemen are twice as likely to die before age 50 as are those who play other positions.
Retired players often die of heart disease.
Football coaches encourage this weight gain, even while the rest of the country tries to slim down for health reasons, and it’s not unusual for high school kids to bulk up to 270-300 lbs. these days.
Young people are not warned that it’s much easier to bulk up than it is to lose weight after being passed over by the NFL, so they become obese with no future in the sport.
2. Blows to the Head:
When lineman Junior Seau retired from the NFL, it took him about two years to start showing mental and emotional symptoms. After a period of inexplicable irritability, he finally shot himself. At autopsy, neurologists found evidence of the kind of chronic, degenerative brain damage normally associated with repeated blows to the head.
This brain condition can’t be diagnosed until an autopsy, can’t be reversed or treated, and many other players have been diagnosed post-mortem.
We call this a sport? We are a nation of obese couch potatoes who sit in front of the TV eating, drinking, cheering, booing, and swearing as obscenely bulked-up men smash repeatedly into one another. This is how we express our manhood.Peter Gray, PhD
3. Performance-Enhancing drugs:
Legal or not, players at all levels seek to enhance their chances of winning with drugs, all of which affect life expectancy. The emphasis is on glory and winning, and all of America seems to join the NFL in this culture of recklessly disregarding the outcome for the individual player. And painkillers can get retirees hooked due to the common, incurable joint pain they suffer for decades.
Contrary to previous generations, this one has a ‘Johnny-one-note’ approach to sports. You’re not going to diversify and play many sports, so you’re going to repeat certain moves over and over and over, and injuries result. In the past, athletes would compete in more than one sport and would live longer, healthier lives and normal weights.
As long as the game is focused on winning, as long as the big money and glory depend on superb performance, players are going to latch onto whatever the new drug is that is known or believed to enhance performance without showing up in drug tests.Peter Gray, PhD
5. Early, sedentary retirement:
NFL players retire at an average of 28 years old, much earlier than other athletes. Most of them retire from permanent injuries, which may lead to a sedentary life and psychological suffering associated with knowing your career is over before age 30.
“Red” Badgro, at 6 ft and 190 lb, in 1927 played both offense and defense for the NY Giants in football and right field for the St. Louis Browns in baseball. He lived to be 95 years old.Peter Gray, PhD
Will a $100,000,000 study from Harvard solve these problems? Or are they inherent in a sport that glamorises slamming and attacking each other? Gray would be happier seeing Americans boycott football until it dies a slow and natural death. But despite the fact that around 4,000 ex-players were suing the NFL in 2013, football is still a one-billion dollar industry that won’t die easily.
I remember a time when playing football was meant to be fun, and when families played together, it was considered a healthful activity. It seems ironic that some of our most famous ‘athletes’ worldwide are dying prematurely from a host of medical problems, most of which are associated with being out of shape.
As someone who played and loved the game myself, I am determined to take my own health very seriously and live a long and active life. I also want to take the time to proliferate the information so that it becomes more widely known. I really believe that shining a light on this situation can help to change it for future generations.
If Red Badgro could play professional football with a healthy weight in 1927 and live until 95, then good football doesn’t actually require players to be morbidly obese, dependent on drugs, and inflicting brain damage on each other. Whether it’s hype from the fans needing a new record that requires drugs to achieve, or it’s the NFL jockeying for more excitement and more money coming in, we’ve changed to an unhealthy direction and all the money in the world can’t disguise it.
I am now 52 and the average age of a former NFL player is 52. This is reality.
If you have any comments for me below, I’ll try to answer with as much insight as I can give as a former NFL player. In the meantime, thanks for your concern for football, NFL players, and their health.
You can read the full Gray article here.