The NFL’s surprising occupational hazard: obesity that kills

Today's NFL linemen have to be bigger than ever.

Today’s guest post comes to us from our colleague Len Jernigan of North Carolina.

Most people know that football is dangerous. We see reports of NFL players with every kind of gruesome injury imaginable. Even suicidal depression, it turns out, is a potential hazard of playing football. Of course playing in the NFL is both rewarding and risky.

There is one common health problem among NFL players, however, that usually goes unmentioned. We thought it was a fitting topic for our workers’ law blog because NFL linemen must embrace this condition in order to stay in peak performance. It’s called chronic obesity.

These days, to be an NFL lineman, you not only have to be fast and strong, you also have to be fat.

Since the 1990s, a growing number of players have followed in the footsteps of William “The Refrigerator” Perry. Since his time, the average weight of an NFL lineman has gone up, and up some more, and players have felt the pressure to keep up by overeating.

Then, in retirement, players must adjust to everyday life with bodies that are overweight, poor eating habits, and injuries that make it really hard to lose excess pounds.

It isn’t lost on those guys that weighing over 300 pounds is a recipe for a shorter life span. They’ve seen many of their colleagues die young. Reggie White, Hall of Fame defensive end, died of cardiac arrhythmia at age 43. Orlando Bobo, former offensive lineman died in 2007 from heart and liver failure at age 33. And that’s to name just a few.

The fact is that retired NFL linemen have higher death rates than the general public.
Check back with us later this week to see how retired NFL players are coping with this scary side effect of playing professional football.


Leonard T. Jernigan Jr. is the founder of the Jernigan Law firm, a highly experienced firm representing injured workers across North Carolina. An acclaimed attorney, author, and law professor specializing in workers’ compensation, Leonard T. Jernigan Jr. is listed in Best Lawyers in America and Super Lawyers.

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