Suicide Mortality Among Retired National Football League Players Who Played 5 or More Seasons

Am J Sports Med. 2016 Oct;44(10):2486-2491. doi: 10.1177/0363546516645093. Epub 2016 May 5.


Background: There is current disagreement in the scientific literature about the relationship between playing football and suicide risk, particularly among professional players in the National Football League (NFL). While some research indicates players are at high risk of football-related concussions, which may lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy and suicide, other research finds such a connection to be speculative and unsupported by methodologically sound research.

Purpose: To compare the suicide mortality of a cohort of NFL players to what would be expected in the general population of the United States.

Study design: Cohort study; Level of evidence, 3.

Methods: A cohort of 3439 NFL players with at least 5 credited playing seasons between 1959 and 1988 was assembled for statistical analysis. The vital status for this cohort was updated through 2013. Standardized mortality ratios (SMRs), the ratio of observed deaths to expected deaths, and 95% CIs were computed for the cohort; 95% CIs that excluded unity were considered statistically significant. For internal comparison purposes, standardized rate ratios were calculated to compare mortality results between players stratified into speed and nonspeed position types.

Results: Suicide among this cohort of professional football players was significantly less than would be expected in comparison with the United States population (SMR = 0.47; 95% CI, 0.24-0.82). There were no significant differences in suicide mortality between speed and nonspeed position players.

Conclusion: There is no indication of elevated suicide risk in this cohort of professional football players with 5 or more credited seasons of play. Because of the unique nature of this cohort, these study results may not be applicable to professional football players who played fewer than 5 years or to college or high school players.

Keywords: National Football League; concussion; football; suicide.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Football / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retirement*
  • Seasons
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States / epidemiology