Back in May, the NFL surfaced a study by the The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that found football players in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s were dying far less frequently than men of similar ages and races in the general population.
The study concluded that NFL players were substantially less likely than other Americans to suffer cancer-related death or die of cardiovascular disease. The NFL directed the study at the hundreds of retired NFL players currently suing their former employer for health-related issues.
Coming just days after the suicide of Junior Seau, the study's findings stood in contrast to the generally held belief that NFL players go on a downward slope physically after they hang up their jerseys.
Bill Barnwell of Grantland decided to take the study on. According to Barnwell, measuring NFL players against the general population was like comparing apples and oranges. Better cardiovascular health and superior health care options gives NFL players advantages other Americans simply don't have.
So Barnwell decided to tweak the study, taking the same sample -- all NFL players from 1959 through 1988 who completed five or more pension-earning seasons -- and measuring it against vested Major League Baseball players in the same time period.
Grantland had to gather their own data for both the NFL and MLB players, leading to some differences from the NIOSH study. After they compiled and compared the data, the results were surprising.
In baseball, there was a 15.9 percent mortality rate of the 1,459 baseball players who qualified. In football, the mortality rate of 3,088 players was 12.8 percent. It's baseball players of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s who have a higher mortality rate.
The study doesn't take account quality of life -- such as instances of arthritis and other debilitating issues -- or the recent rash of suicides that's given the NFL pause.
Football players are larger than baseball players on average, and they continue to get bigger. A study covering post-1988 careers could have totally different results. Grantland's work doesn't exactly validate the NIOSH study -- and it rightly point out further study is needed -- but it doesn't debunk it, either.