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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Perils of Being an NFL Football Player

Click here and see what I mean.

NFL players die at an alarming rate. 1 out of every 69 NFL players born since 1955 is dead. That's among other facts that you'll discern from the article. Some players are just too big, to the point where they've been classified as obese. And let's face it, do some of the run stuffers really display great technique, or do they simply take up space and refuse to move, Sumo-style?

As the article shows, former NFL players suffer a disproportionate share of maladies, most specifically, heart attacks.

I've blogged before about how the lack of sidewalks, hurries people frequently seem to be in, and lack of spontaneous, "pick up", play have rendered our kids more sedentary and, yes, heavier. To the point where many schools are testing not for tuberculosis, as they did decades ago, but for obesity. Take a look around -- the PlayStation generation suffers from too much stationery play. That's a problem in and of itself.

But this problem is different. This problem involves men who have evolved faster than the species can study the evolution, men who are good athletes but perhaps not in as good shape as we think NFL athletes are, or, rather, who don't know yet how to stay in shape and live according to a regimen that will enable them not only to become grandfathers, but to chase the grandchildren around (as opposed to limp after them). How more serious a problem can the NFL have? The stats are not pretty.

I was talking with a Division I college football player the other day -- he's a defensive lineman -- and he was saying how tired he was of eating to keep his weight up. He pointed out a friend of his to me -- a former offensive lineman -- who looked like he was a defensive back now. The reason? The kid was a 6'2", 280 pound center. He quit football, stopped eating all of the extra meals, and lost 100 pounds. Apparently he feels a little better too. Now, these kids aren't NFL material, but maybe they're lucky enough not to be. Because believe it or not, there is more to life than football.

And those two kids are smart enough to know it now.

We glorify the NFL perhaps even more than any other sport in this country, which is saying a lot given that readers have lectured me in comments on the magic of SEC football, among other things. There is no doubt that the NFL is the most popular sport in the country (sorry, NASCAR fans, but even if one were to concede that car racing is a sport, pro football trumps you, at least for now). The teams make a ton of money from seat licenses, ticket sales and sales of all sorts of merchandise, not to mention, of course, TV revenue. And, many players are well compensated for their years in the game, especially when you compare their compensation to that of most people in the U.S.

We're a society that talks about the price of everything. Seat licenses could cost $2,500 per. Tickets might cost $100 a game for a really good seat, and the jersey of your home team's star might run you $60, with another couple of hundred bucks to outfit the whole family. You can search the web and find out the signing bonuses free agents get and the contracts most players get. Heck, you can find out what the coaches earn too.

Those, though, are only the price tags.

What, then, is the true cost?

What are all of those expenditures and revenues worth?

If you're Gene Upshaw, head of the NFL Players' Association, you're asking yourself that very question as you are on the eve of the biggest contract negotiation of your union's history (the contract is up in a year).

Worth having many former players dying too young?

How much is our beloved pro football worth to us?

Hard questions, these are.

But both Gene Upshaw and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue must answer them.


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