Are There Any FACTUAL Studies Showing Average Lifespan of NFL Players?

Every so often, I’ll hear or read some outrageous claims that “the average NFL player only lives to be 58” or some such number.

Most recently, I heard Floyd Little repeating this number, as if it were a proven fact.

I know that NFL players take a pounding. I can easily believe that most of them endure pain and suffering that goes WAAAAY beyond the ordinary aches of old age. Many of them could tell me horror stories of the surgeries they’ve endured and the joints they’ve had replaced. I have no doubt of that.

But are there any real, reputable studies that show how long former NFL players actually live? 58 just doesn’t sound plausible to me, not even close. If 58 were a valid number, we’d expect most of the old Steel Curtain players to be dead by now, but very few are.

Any REAL, reliable data to be had on this?

I haven’t found the study online, but here’s a reference to the author Jeffrey Boone.

That’s a good start, thanks. And cardiologist Jeffrey Boone MAY be the source of that 53-59 average life expectancy I hear mentioned so often.

But I still don’t know if Dr. Boone has published a formal study, or where he’s getting his numbers.

Again, I can’t say for sure those numbers are wrong, but they seem highly suspect to me. Just to take one famous team, look at the 1969 miracle Jets. Only one of their starters is dead, as far as I can tell (Verlon Biggs). If life expectancy were really only 53-59, shouldn’t a lot more Jets be deceased by now?

Obviously, things have changed since then. Players are bigger, sometimes ENORMOUS. The hits are harder. MAYBE we’re seeing oversized linemen dying of heart trouble now.

But I’d still like to see some real documentation.

Couldn’t someone just grab a copy of the most recent edition of Total Football and perform the calculations themselves?

It wouldn’t surprise me if it were true. I was friends with Homer Elias, a former Detroit Lion from about 1979-1984. Very big guy, still looked like a football player even into his forties. He died very suddenly and with little warning of a heart attack in the morning.

It seemed as if the muscle of his youth had been replaced by thick layers of fat. He didn’t smoke or drink heavily, but had a heart attack one morning.

I see Wikipedia actually lists him as alive, but he died around the 2002 or so. I think he was 46.

Anecdotal, but sad.

As I said, I’m dubious but NOT stating categorically that it’s not true.

Larry Little, who was a great guard for the Dolphins, told the New York Times, “I played at 260 pounds. Since retiring, well, I’ve kind of let myself go, and now I weigh about 290. But what’s scary is, I look at these linemen who are 350 pounds, and I think, how big are you gonna get after you retire and you’re not working out any more?”

No doubt, a LOT of NFL players are putting their health at risk. I’m still not sure where the “average lifespan of 58” comes from, or if it’s valid.

My understanding is that some players have to work hard at keeping on that kind of weight, and the moment they stop working out so hard (and eating 6000-calorie-a-day diets), they quickly drop weight. Others, on the other hand, seem to keep it on, with interest. It’s probably the latter group who are the ones in serious trouble.

You’re right- it CAN work both ways. A guy like Mark Schlereth, formerly an offensive lineman for the Broncos, lost a lot of weight quickly and easily after retiring, because he’d always had to force himself to eat and pump iron a lot more than he really wanted to.

On the other hand, a guy like Tony Siragusa was already enormous while playing, and has only gotten bigger since becoming a broadcaster.

Here’s a minor factual study, done by yours truly. I took a look at the winners of Superbowl I, the Green Bay Packers.

Of those who have died, the average age at death was 55. However, most are still alive (according to Wikipedia). Even if they all dropped dead today, it would raise the average to 66.

I think one lesson is: don’t play defence.

Position	Name	Died	Alive
QB	Bart Starr		76
HB	Elijah Pitts	60	
HB	Donny Anderson		66
FB	Jim Grabowski		65
FB	Ben Wilson		70
FL	Carroll Dale		71
SE	Boyd Dowler		72
TE	Marv Fleming		68
LT	Bob Skoronski		76
LG	Gale Gillingham		66
C	Ken Bowman		67
C	Bob Hyland		64
RG	Jerry Kramer		74
RT	Forrest Gregg		76
LDE	Willie Davis		65
LDT	Ron Kostelnik	53	
RDT	Henry Jordan	42	
RDE	Lionel Aldridge	56	
LLB	Dave Robinson		68
MLB	Ray Nitschke	61	
RLB	Lee Roy Caffey	52	
LCB	Herb Adderley		70
RCB	Bob Jeter	71	
LS	Tom Brown		69
RS	Willie Wood		73
K	Don Chandler		75
P	Donny Anderson		66
KR	Travis Williams	45	

THAT actually makes sense- people throwing around the age of 58 may not be wrong, but they may be misinterpreting data.

That is, the typical football player may live a lot longer than 58 years, but the ones who HAVE died thus far may have died at a median age of 58.

I know. I was just sharing an anecdote I often think of when I see the guys who weigh 300 lb+ today. :slight_smile:

Those guys were also a lot lighter than the players of today. There was probably hardly any steroid abuse. It would be a better statistic to analyze by decade, On the other hand, you have a good point that many of those players are still alive. I’m presuming that because many in later decades have not died, the statistics can be easily manipulated. Also, how are players defined, as far as number of games played?

I remember when the players were trying to get the pension increased many years ago. The NFL argued that they had a terrific pension . The Players Assoc. argued that few lived long enough to get it and they wanted it to kick in at a younger age. And get bigger. TRhis will get some attention. It says the average lineman lives til 52.

Thanks Max, but this CBC report just highlights the point I’m getting at: they’re NOT citing a study proving that football linemen tend to die in their fifties. They’re just stating that it’s true without providing a link to the original source.

Again, I have NO doubt that ex-football players endure great pain, pain that other men their age do not experience. Many have had knees or hips replaced, which is NOT normal for men their age. I’ve SEEN Joe Namath walk up a flight of stairs, and it was almost as painful for me to watch as it was for him to do. You don’t have to convince me that a violent sport like football takes a heavy physical toll on players.

But I keep coming back to that “average age of death” number. It just sounds bogus to me. MAYBE it’s true, and I’ll gladly admit it if I see some real numbers provided by a real doctor who’s studied the matter. But until then, I can’t help wondering if people are just citing and re-citing and re-citing a number they’ve heard tossed around.

But to give you an idea of where I’m coming from… look at the Green Bay Packer dynasty of the Sixties. Look at their offewnsie line. Forrest Gregg, Fuzzy Thurston and Jerry Kramer are all in their 70s, and very much alive. The only Packer offensive lineman from that era who’s NOT alive is Jim Ringo, who died at 76.

Now, have linemen gotten MUCH bigger since the Sixties? Sure. So MAYBE the death rate has gotten much worse. But let’s look at the Redskins’ famous “Hawgs.” Russ Grimm is still alive and coaching. Mark May is alive and doing college football commentary. Jeff Bostic is alive, as are Joe Jacoby and George Starke.

They may just be exceptions to the rule, I admit. And if I talked to them, maybe I’d learn that they’re all in ill health, due to the beating their bodies took. But so far, none of them have keeled over in their Fifties. And ,as far as I can tell, not many pro football players do.


Mosi Tatupu just died at 54.

It would seem that there isn’t any real good data on the issue. But, it seems the number is probably bogus.

While the stat is surely exaggerated, I would bet that playing in the NFL has a dramatic effect of your quality of life, if not your life expectancy.

Not health related but I read that a pretty large chunk of either NBA or NFL players go broke after retiring. They blow a lot of money when playing and don’t have much left when they stop playing.

Average career is 3.5 years. They all think they will be the exception. They get the best of everything and figure they will get it the rest of their lives. They only have value when they are playing.

Yes, there is accurate information out there. I am the owner of the web site

We have been searching death dates for players for many years. We are very accrate. Please understand, the encyclopedias and the online web sites that have copied their information are filled with errors that might make their studyies useless.

The average life span of a pro football player is 63-68 years old. Yes, I know it is a range, but the study is not 100% complete. We are still working on confirming 1% of the players that have died so far. We have well over 5,400 players in our study so far.

To make my study as accurate as possible, I used a death age of 40 years for the players still to be confirmed. They did not all die at the age 40 of course, but I am just being cautious until I complete the study. The 51-55 age range that is all over the internet is wrong. After the research has ended, I will assume it will be 66 or 67 years.