25 feb. 2009

Here's an urban legend I haven't seen at snopes.com. It usually takes the form of "studies have shown" and states that an NFL career will take twenty years off your life expectancy. Usually it is stated that the NFLer can expect to live until 55, and a lineman to 52 years of age. Or that every season played takes 3.5 years off your life.

In 1994, the New York Times reported that

A Federal agency announced today that its study showed the death rate for former professional football players was 46 percent less than the rate for American men of similar age and race in the general population.

So that's the opposite. Football players live longer. To believe that the average ex-jock is going to die at 55 strains credulity. That would mean that there would have to be a lot of players passing in their 40s, or even 30s, to balance out those who survived to their 60s and 70s, and make the average come to 55. There are players who die that young, but it can't be half of them.

The bad news?

The study also showed, however, that offensive and defensive linemen, who are heavier than other players, had a 52 percent greater risk than nonplayers of dying from heart disease. And it showed that heart disease killed linemen at a rate 3.7 times higher than the rate for other players

That's bad. But notice the points of comparison: heavy players vs. "non-players," and heavy players vs. "other players." There's no comparison here of 350 lb. linemen to 350 lb guys who don't play football, because I suspect that the two groups might have more or less the same mortality rates from heart disease. So it's not playing football that kills you, it's weighing 350 lbs. I'd even guess that the obese non-jocks would be more unhealthy.

Note, too, that the way the story expresses these two comparisons is not parallel, making these numbers harder to understand for the average sports fan. One is "52%, greater" the other "3.7 times higher." 52% is much smaller, it is equivalent to saying "1.52 times greater" (I think). So it's better to be another type of player (non lineman) than a guy in the general population.

This is not to say that playing football has no negative health effects apart from those related to being too big. Brain injuries, arthritis, and other things come to mind. And you also have to assume that linemen wouldn't weigh that much if they didn't have to so that they could collide effectively with other linemen. So this is extra, gratuitous obesity that these people would not have to carry if they weren't football players.

But I don't think that those 55 and 52 numbers are even close to being accurate. At least i haven't found the study that supposedly proved that.

On another note, I think they must have given me regular expresso rather than decaf in my decaf latte this evening, because otherwise I wouldn't be blogging about something that I have no interest in at all at 11:30 p.m.

1 comentario:

Jake dijo...

FYI: As you reflect on the development of the contemporary intellectual or academic, the small entry on football that you just wrote would have been a stellar example of how to write for the GRE. Especially if it was fueled by espresso.