Those who have convinced themselves that American football is incurably violent and shortens the life expectancy of those who play it -- I am thinking of George Will -- ought to read the study the American Journal of Cardiology published in March on the mortality of former NFL players.
Men who played in the NFL for at least five years over a period of three decades, the study demonstrated, had a lower mortality rate than the general population of American males.
However, in The Washington Post on Sunday, George Will wrote: "Various unsurprising studies indicate high early mortality rates among linemen resulting from cardiovascular disease. For all players who play five or more years, life expectancy is less than 60; for linemen it is much less."
The definitive study says otherwise.
A group of researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health -- including Sherry L. Baron, M.D., Misty J. Hein, Ph.D., Everett Lehman and Christine Gersic -- conducted a study of mortality among 3,439 men who had played at least five years in the NFL between 1959 and 1988. Their report appeared in Volume 109, Issue 6 of the American Journal of Cardiology.
"Overall," the study concluded, "retired NFL players from the 1959 through the 1988 seasons showed decreased all-cause and (cardiovascular disease) mortalities compared to a referent United States population of men."
How could this be? How could men who most likely played four years of high-school football and then four years of college football before they even stepped foot on an NFL field -- where they would play for at least another five years -- end up having a lower mortality rate than men who did not play in the NFL?
"Players' overall decreased mortality risk is likely explained by several factors," said the researchers.
For one, they are less likely to smoke. For another: "Players' body composition and high fitness levels likely contribute to their lower than expected overall mortality compared to the general United States population, especially given their increased size."
The NIOSH study said that in a group of 3,439 American male peers of the NFL veterans', 625.2 would have been expected to die by the end of 2007. Among the actual 3,439 NFL veterans, only 334 had died.
By a ratio of 126-to-186.2, NFL veterans were also less likely than their peers to die specifically of cardiovascular disease.