Social network structure and composition in former NFL football players

Sci Rep. 2021 Feb 1;11(1):1630. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-80091-w.


Social networks have broad effects on health and quality of life. Biopsychosocial factors may also modify the effects of brain trauma on clinical and pathological outcomes. However, social network characterization is missing in studies of contact sports athletes. Here, we characterized the personal social networks of former National Football League players compared to non-football US males. In 303 former football players and 269 US males, we found that network structure (e.g., network size) did not differ, but network composition (e.g., proportion of family versus friends) did differ. Football players had more men than women, and more friends than family in their networks compared to US males. Black players had more racially diverse networks than White players and US males. These results are unexpected because brain trauma and chronic illnesses typically cause diminished social relationships. We anticipate our study will inform more multi-dimensional study of, and treatment options for, contact sports athletes. For example, the strong allegiances of former athletes may be harnessed in the form of social network interventions after brain trauma. Because preserving health of contact sports athletes is a major goal, the study of social networks is critical to the design of future research and treatment trials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans
  • Aged
  • Athletes / statistics & numerical data*
  • Brain Concussion / pathology
  • Female
  • Football
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Networking*
  • Whites