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  • New research suggests certain positions and longer careers increase an NFL player’s risk of developing cognitive and mental health issues. 
  • Researchers analyzed career length, position history, head and neck injuries, concussion symptoms, depression and anxiety symptoms.
  • They found that players with the longest careers were twice as likely to report cognitive issues than players with the shortest careers.
  • Additionally, those with the most concussion symptoms (running backs and linebackers) had twice the risk for cognitive issues and were 50% more likely to develop depression and anxiety than players with the least amount of concussions. 
  • Researchers say this study shows that career length and position can affect an NFL player’s risk for serious cognitive issues; the number and severity of concussions in these players is likely a major factor.

Quick Summary

A new study “Exposure to American Football and Neuropsychiatric Health in Former National Football League Players: Findings from the Football Players Health Study” finds that NFL players who play certain positions (running backs and linebackers) and those with longer careers are at a higher risk of experiencing cognitive issues and mental health problems.   

Goals  

Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School conducted this study as part of the Football Players Health Study. They sought to explore the effect of career length and position on cognitive and mental health among NFL players. They also wanted to better understand what interventions can help players maintain their health and wellness.  

Investigation  

The research team analyzed a survey of 3,500 former NFL players with an average age of 53. These individuals answered questions about how long they played in the NFL, what positions they played, and their history of head and neck injuries, as well as symptoms of concussions like confusion, vision loss, and dizziness. Researchers also conducted questionnaires that are commonly used to screen for depression and anxiety.  

Findings  

Researchers discovered several interesting findings:

  • One in eight players, or 12% of participants, reported signs of serious cognitive issues.
  • Nearly one in four players reported symptoms of anxiety and depression; nearly one in five reported symptoms of both.
  • Players with the longest careers (10 seasons or longer) were twice as likely to report severe cognitive issues than players with the shortest careers (one single season)
  • Every five seasons of NFL play came with a 20% increased risk for serious cognitive issues.
  • Quarterbacks, punters, and kickers had the fewest concussion symptoms per year.
  • Running backs and linebackers had the highest number of concussion symptoms.  
  • Those with the most concussion symptoms had twice the risk for serious cognitive problems and were 50% more likely to experience depression and anxiety than those with the lowest number of concussions.

Conclusion  

Researchers say this study shows that career length and position can affect an NFL player’s risk for serious cognitive issues. This likely has to do with head injuries that these players sustain over time and in high-contact positions. The team stresses the fact that these findings pertain to former NFL players and not all football players.  

Limitations  

  • This is the first study to explore potential links between career length, position, and cognitive issues among NFL players, which means additional research is necessary. 

Research:   Roberts, A. L., Pascual-Leone, A., Speizer, F., et al (2019, August 30). Exposure to American Football and Neuropsychiatric Health in Former National Football League Players: Findings from the Football Players Health Study. The American Journal of Sports Medicine. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0363546519868989

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett is a staff writer at Thriveworks. She devotes herself to distributing important information about mental health and wellbeing, writing mental health news and self-improvement tips daily. Taylor received her bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism, with minors in professional writing and leadership from Virginia Tech. She is a co-author of Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book and has published content on Thought Catalog, Odyssey, and The Traveling Parent.

Check out “Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book” written by AJ Centore and Taylor Bennett."

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