NFL players don’t live longer, especially linemen

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In a recent study published in the journal Dr Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesThe researchers examined the association between longevity playing American football and a career while using comparison groups similar in health, educational level, socioeconomic factors, and race, and assessed differences in the association based on player location.

Study: The connection between playing professional American football and longevity.  Image credit: Created with assistance from DALL·E 3

Study: Association between playing professional American football and longevity. Image credit: Created with assistance from DALL·E 3


Although much research has been done on neuropsychological problems resulting from traumatic brain injuries in American football players, a large body of research suggests that American football players live longer than the average American male. However, given that most professional football players often require a three-year college education and are highly paid elite athletes, these findings may not be surprising because these socioeconomic factors strongly influence longevity and health.

Furthermore, much of the evidence for this association comes from studies in which the mortality outcomes of American football players have been compared with American men in general, who are not similar in terms of fitness, socioeconomic factors, or education. In addition, the predominance of a particular race in American football may influence the results based on racial disparities in mortality rates. Longevity among football players also depends on the player’s position, with defensive and offensive linemen facing a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and traumatic encephalopathy.

About the study

In the current study, researchers examined the reported association between longevity and American football players from the comparative perspective of American men with similar educational levels, health, socioeconomic characteristics, and ethnic group membership. They also assessed differences in associations based on player position and hypothesized that linemen would have reduced longevity compared to players at other positions.

The researchers conducted two complimentary analyzes to test the two hypotheses. Using data from the United States (US) National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), they compared the longevity of American football players with the general population of US men, then repeated the analysis for a subsample of men who were comparable on such factors. Educational level, race and ethnicity, health, and socioeconomic factors.

The Pro-Football Archives provided data on football players, and for the first analysis, the researchers selected first-year football players aged 21 to 25 who played between 1988 and 1995. NHIS data were used to select a comparison group, with subgroups consisting of men with similar educational attainment, income, race and ethnicity, and employment status. The exposure was one or more professional football games, the outcome of which was to examine the risk of death within 25 years.

For the second analysis, they compared the longevity of professional football players with athletes who were drafted to play American football but did not play professionally. They considered all men drafted to play in the National Football League (NFL) between 1950 and 1959 and obtained information on their football careers, year of drafting, team and player positions, and number of games played. For those who were drafted but never played a game, birth and death information was obtained through an extensive search of news archives.


The results showed that football players who played either offense or defensive lineman had a shorter life expectancy overall than football players who played other positions, as well as American men with similar educational, socioeconomic and health status. , and were of the same race and ethnicity.

A second analysis found that compared to men who were drafted as linemen for the NFL but never played a professional game, those who were drafted as linemen and played at least one game died an average of two years earlier. The results highlight the need for similar comparison groups when analyzing the life expectancy of soccer players because men who play soccer professionally belong to a specific group based on education level, socioeconomic status, health, and ethnic membership, all factors that influence longevity. .


To summarize, the study examined the reported relationship between longevity and professional career in American football through reanalysis using appropriate comparison groups matched on socioeconomic factors, educational level, health, and race. Overall findings suggest that while no positive correlation was observed between professional football careers and longevity, lineman players have a relatively shorter life expectancy than similar American men and football players playing other positions.

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