The association between playing professional American football and longevity

John Robert Warren, Gina Rumore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Recent research concludes that professional American football players (hereafter, “football players”) live longer than American men in general, despite experiencing higher rates of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and cardiovascular disease (CVD). This suggests that the longevity-enhancing benefits of playing football (e.g., physical fitness, money) outweigh the costs associated with CTE, CVD, and other longevity detriments of playing football. However, these surprising results may be the consequence of flawed research design. To investigate, we conducted two analyses. In analysis 1, we compared a) all professional American football players whose first season was 1986 or between 1988 and 1995 to b) a random sample of same-age American men observed as part of the National Health Interview Surveys in those same years selected on good health, at least 3 y of college, and not being poor. The exposure consists of playing one or more games of professional football; the outcome is risk of death within 25 y. In analysis 2, we use data on 1,365 men drafted to play in the (American) National Football League in the 1950s—906 of whom ultimately played professional football, and 459 of whom never played a game in any professional league. We estimate the association between playing football and survival through early 2023. In both analyses, we investigate differences between linemen and other position players. In contrast to most prior research, in both analyses, we find that linemen died earlier than otherwise similar men; men who played other positions died no earlier (or later).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2308867120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number45
StatePublished - 2023

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Copyright © 2023 the Author(s).


  • football
  • mortality
  • occupation
  • research design

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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