A government study commissioned by the NFL Players Association found that athletes in the league lived longer than their male counterparts in American society. The study looked at 3,439 men who played for five years or longer in the league between 1959 and 1993 and discovered 334 deaths. Had the results mirrored statistical norms among American men, the researchers would have found 625 deaths. It turns out that professional football players have lower rates of cancer and heart disease.
Who would have guessed that there are health benefits to all that running, jumping, pushing, and pulling?
The number of football deaths at all levels has fallen dramatically over the last half century. Present hysteria aside, rule changes and advances in equipment have made it a safer game. During the second half of the 1960s, brain-injury deaths averaged more than 20 per year for football players. That figure is now less than five per year in a sport played by millions.
Perhaps four deaths annually, and an uncountable number of concussions, is an unacceptable price for what amounts to an amusement. Former American Spectator writer Malcolm Gladwell said as much in that NYU debate by wondering aloud about the ethics of watching a game in which contestants risk life and limb. But every year about 40 Americans die skiing, about 800 die bicycling, and about 3,500 die swimming.