NFL players are four times more likely to die of ALS
NFL players are about four times more likely to die of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, than the general public, researchers found in a study published Wednesday.
The researchers from Harvard University and Boston University’s CTE Center evaluated all 19,423 NFL athletes who played one or more games between 1960 and 2019, the largest study to date on the relationship between football and ALS.
In the new study, the researchers also found that NFL players diagnosed with ALS had longer professional football careers than those without the disease, suggesting an association between the disease and increased exposure to head trauma. Those who had ALS had an average career of 7 years, compared with 4.5 years among players who didn’t have ALS.
The researchers combed through public records on all the players between October 2020 and July 2021, including news reports, obituaries and NFL statistics. They found 38 players who received a diagnosis of ALS, of whom 28 had died of the disease.
The researchers hypothesized a relationship between head trauma and ALS because of a similar link detected between football and the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Previous research has noted that CTE and ALS may have some similar impacts on the brain.
The researchers noted that other potential factors that may affect ALS diagnosis and need to be evaluated include smoking, exercise exertion and pesticide exposure. They also found no relationship between position played, race or age and disease. But they said the number of athletes diagnosed with the disease made it difficult to make any determinations. The NFL has not responded to a request for comment on the findings.
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