Cause of Death, Longevity, and Career Statistical Characteristics among Former NFL Players: An Empirical Analysis using Categorical and Survival Models

Shane Sanders (SPM) PI, Brittany Kmush (PH) co-PI, Merril Silverstein (HDFS) co-PI, Arthur Owora, co-PI.
Intramural Sponsored Project – 2018-2019 SU CUSE Grant – Interdisciplinary innovation, $29,921.

The present research seeks to determine the relationships between on-field attributes/events, longevity, and cause of death among former NFL players. As the present NFL player concussion reporting protocol was not enacted until 2011, present data cannot determine the mortality risk factor presented by the elevated rate of concussion experienced by players during their career. That is, the complete pathway from concussion(s) to chronic traumatic encephalopathy and other neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Parkinson’s Disease) to mortality risk among former NFL players is empirically indeterminable given present data. Such an empirical determination is important toward mitigating the on-field circumstances that create (mortality risk from) neurodegenerative disease. We employ a second best empirical approach in which proxies of neurocognitive trauma are developed for each former NFL player from 1923 using on-field player event and attribute data. Depending upon player position-of-play, these proxies include games played, games started, seasons played, number of tackles, number of times sacked, number of carries, number of receptions, years of play, playing style, and position itself. We also collect birth date, death date, and player (listed) height and weight during career. From these player trauma proxies, we will examine the relationship between estimated neurocognitive trauma, presence of neurodegenerative disease, and longevity in former NFL players. The analysis will determine whether elevated neurodegenerative risk factors exist among former NFL players with respect to position-of-play, era, physical characteristics, or distribution of on-field events. Such findings are important toward the development of mitigating (sport governance) policy.