Study finds that suicides are rarer among ex-NFL players than general public

A U.S. government study has found that former NFL players are less likely to commit suicide than the general population, though the survey also has its limitations.

As detailed by The Associated Press, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health examined 3,439 former NFL players with at least five years of experience between 1979 and 2013. It found only 12 who committed suicide, when 25 suicides should have been expected for men of comparable age. However, the survey did not examine concussion data for the retired players or whether any of them had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative condition caused by repeated head injuries, and thus did not attempt to find a correlation between CTE and suicide.

“Clearly, our one study does not resolve the issue of suicide in football,” the study concludes, according to a news release obtained by ESPN. “Before reliable conclusions can be drawn on any relationship among football play, concussion, CTE and suicide, more work needs to be done in several areas.”

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has long been studying NFL players who retired as far back as 1959. As the AP notes, it previously had found that former NFL players had longer lifespans than men in the general population and were less likely to die prematurely from cancer, violence and accidents. But the studies also found they faced higher instances of Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders.

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Several former NFL players, most notably recent Hall of Famer Junior Seau, have committed suicide in acts linked to head injuries, with Seau and others purposely shooting themselves in the chest so their brains can be studied. CTE cannot be diagnosed with certainty until after a person’s death.

A study of the brains of 94 former NFL players conducted by researchers at Boston University found that 90 showed signs of CTE. In March, an NFL official told the U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce that the league now admits a connection between head injuries and CTE.