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AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 4, 2018


Uncovering the Long-Term Health Impact of Playing in the NFL

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How a group of forgotten players might help us make the game safer

In 1987, National Football League players went on strike. As a response, NFL teams scrambled to fill their rosters with “replacement players,” individuals who had some experience with college or professional football, but who weren’t part of NFL rosters that year. Replacement games – which lasted three weeks – were deeply unpopular with fans. The replacement players themselves became a footnote in sports history.

It turns out these players may actually play a critical role in football today – by helping us understand how playing in the NFL affects long-term health.

There is considerable interest in understanding how professional football affects health. The main concern is that injuries to the brain may shorten the life of NFL players. Lifestyle choices, such as substance use (either during or after a player’s career), and listlessness and loss of purpose after early retirement are other factors that may also raise the risk of early death.

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