Last Thursday, Grantland’s Bill Barnwell published an informal study of mortality rates among professional football and baseball players. The results were surprising: Among the 3,088 ex-football players who played for parts of at least five seasons between 1959 and 1988, 12.8 percent had died; in a sample of 1,494 baseball players active during the same era, the death rate was 15.9 percent.
The study was meant to serve as a clarification or maybe a rebuke of a similar study published last spring. That one, conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (and then peer-reviewed), compared mortality among retired football players and nonathletes matched for age and race and found that the ex-athletes were dying about half as often as one might expect. In other words, the health risks associated with playing football were being more than outweighed by the benefits of being a pro athlete — excellent training and nutrition, a good salary, top-quality medical care, and so on.
I’ve always felt rec-league softball was the most dangerous game. The biggest injury risks are borne by buys who think they’re athletes.