Playing football may be potentially harmful for several reasons, including repeated head trauma that may result in chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease.
‘Professional football players who suffer repeated blows on their head are at the risk of developing traumatic brain injury.’
Previous studies examining the rate of death in retired NFL players have been limited by comparisons with the general population because a better comparison group would be individuals with similar athletic attributes and lifestyles.
About 3,812 retired players who started in the NFL from 1982 to 1992, including 2,933 regular NFL players and 897 replacement players hired temporarily to play during a three-game strike in 1987.
Participation in the NFL as a career or replacement player (exposures); death from any cause by December 31, 2016 (outcome).
This was an observational study. Researchers were not intervening for purposes of the study and cannot control all the natural differences that could explain the study findings.
The authors of the study were Atheendar S. Venkataramani, M.D., Ph.D., Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and coauthors.
A slightly higher, but not statistically significant, difference in long-term risk of death was associated with a playing career in the NFL compared with a short stint as a replacement player during a league strike.
Seven career players died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) compared to no replacement players.
The study had its limitations like the estimates were based on a small number of deaths so the analysis may not detect meaningful associations; additional analyses with longer-term follow-up may be helpful.