Why NFL Players Are Dying at a Faster Rate Than Other Athletes

If you dream of an NFL career, there’s something you should know. Most make a lot of money for a short period of time, and some, though not all, enjoy an early retirement. While current and former NFL players enjoy the perks, a long lifespan isn’t one of them. A recent occupational health study found that NFL players are dying at a faster rate than other athletes.

The life expectancy of NFL players

This isn’t the first time the overall lifespan of NFL players has been studied. Previous studies have compared the overall lifespan of athletes who played professional football with the average person. The results found that because the pro football players maintained an active lifestyle while others were more sedentary, the athletes generally lived longer. The recent study, however, sought to answer if football players lived as long as other pro athletes. The answer is no.

What the study explored

One of the main reasons for the study involved renewed concern about head injuries and concussions, and whether those injuries had a significant impact on how long the athletes lived post-injury. This was not a casual study that looked at a few players.

Over 6,000 professional athletes were studied, and the results revealed startling news. NFL players’ rate of death was 1.3 times higher than pro baseball players. The research is the first time any comparison of life expectancy between professional athletes has been done. It found two factors that shortened NFL players’ life expectancy:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Neurodegenerative diseases

When researchers looked at deaths connected to cardiovascular disease, NFL players are 2.4 times more likely to die than their pro baseball counterparts.

Surprising heart problems

No one was surprised that neurological diseases are an issue for NFL players. Over the past decade, we’ve become aware of just how serious concussions and other head injuries really are. Although we still don’t know everything, we know football players are prone to concussions and other head injuries due to the jolting blows to their bodies.

It’s estimated that the NFL experiences between 100 and 120 concussion cases each year. Quarterbacks are at the greatest risk for a concussion. In addition to memory and general health problems, concussions may trigger an early death, as researchers suspect. The NFL is encouraging teams to take better care of players who have sustained head injuries.

However, the fact that NFL players were at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease did come as a surprise. Most of us assume athletes, especially active NFL players, would have extremely healthy hearts, but that’s not the case.

One study published in Newsmax Health revealed that the aorta of approximately 30% of NFL players is four centimeters larger than the average person. Possible explanations for the enlarged aorta include obesity, high blood pressure, intense workouts, drug use, and genetics.

Tim Tyrrell is one example of a former NFL player who struggles with cardiovascular issues. The former NFL running back played for six seasons. At 58 years old, he’s already had three strokes attributed to atrial fibrillation. While Tyrrell can’t say that his NFL career didn’t contribute to his cardiovascular concerns, he’s also quick to point out that it’s impossible to know for sure.