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Chart: How Does Weight Affect The Lifespans Of Pro Football Players?

Illustration for article titled Chart: How Does Weight Affect The Lifespans Of Pro Football Players?

Over on the Reddit sub r/dataisbeautiful, users have been playing around with an interesting dataset (pulled from Pro Football Reference) that looks at the lifespan of pro players from the late 19th-century to present. The chart above, by user "zipcitytrucker" breaks down the age of death by playing weight, finding that the quintile with the largest weight (≥ 226 pounds) has died eight years younger, on average, than the other groups.

This may not seem surprising—it's well established that weight is closely tied to long-term health—but in all the CTE-focused talk about how football players have shorter average lifespans than the general population, it's sometimes forgotten that the sport all but requires certain positions to be played by enormous men, and these men are getting more enormous every decade. This is not to say these players aren't in good shape—the agility and speed of NFL linemen relative to their size make them some of the most impressive athletes on the planet—but once a player's career is over, all bets are off. This also says nothing to undercut the potential risk of brain trauma; if micro-concussions are as harmful as many fear they may be, linemen would be receiving the brunt of that damage.


One major caveat about this dataset: it has a somewhat literal survivorship bias, because most of the football players who've played in the last several decades aren't dead yet. These players' weights aren't included in the analysis, which means, to use an extreme example, that there could be a thousand ninety year-old retired players who weigh 300 pounds sitting around somewhere, refuting the apparent conclusions in this chart (this issue is exacerbated by the fact the more recent players are also heavier).

So take the conclusions with a grain of salt, and if you're feeling adventurous you can go play with the raw data yourself. Nevertheless, it's an interesting way to look at the data, and an important reminder that, lifespan decrease or not, being six feet tall and 341 pounds could be a problem for your long-term health.


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