OT: The NFL's Obesity Scourge

Submitted by Don on January 22nd, 2019 at 7:49 PM

The NFL's Obesity Scourge: retired players struggle with weight gain and associated medical issues.


I believe both the NFL and the college ranks should impose an upper limit on weight. A large OL in 1970 was 250 lbs, and purely from a health standpoint it would be far better for players at every level of competition today if there wasn't the pressure for linemen to weigh well in excess of 300 lbs, especially OL.


A Lot of Milk

January 22nd, 2019 at 7:56 PM ^

I honestly feel that part of it is that guys who have trained all their life and have shaped their body meticulously just want to pig out because they can. I like to think that most athletes retire, look in the mirror one day at their body that's allowed them to achieve sports performance at the highest level and say to themselves, "I'm gonna shut down a McDonald's by MYSELF today."

That's really the American dream


January 22nd, 2019 at 8:00 PM ^

True.  And the other part is, for years you hate a diet that could maintain a 300 lb dude as that guy is running wind sprints, doing up-downs and whatever else happens at practice.   

If you continue that same diet that your body is used to, but don't pair it with all of that exercise.... it's gonna be bad times.  


January 22nd, 2019 at 10:03 PM ^

I honestly feel that part of it is that guys who have trained all their life and have shaped their body meticulously just want to pig out because they can. I like to think that most athletes retire, look in the mirror one day at their body that's allowed them to achieve sports performance at the highest level and say to themselves, "I'm gonna shut down a McDonald's by MYSELF today."

That's really the American dream


or...a guy spent his entire life building as much mass as he could on a monster frame because that's what the NFL needs. I had a player who spent eight years as a backup/replacement for injured linemen...he was 'tiny' at 315 and the moment he retired, did everything he could to return to normal size. It was a battle because it required eating multiple meals a day to be that big or get shoved around the field. While most of America lives that 'dream'...to assume linemen suddenly say lets go, find a buffet and pig out because it no longer matters is ignorant. 


January 23rd, 2019 at 9:54 AM ^

and in that perspective, I aslo agree, as others said Charles Barkley perhaps as a perspective. And knowing guys I played with and where they are now...yeah some did hit the buffet table because they could....but most are pretty normal. I ran into Jerame Tuman in Pittsburgh. He and his wife run a gym, and he looks every bit the part...he was lean as hell, and only because of his frame would you guess he played TE in the NFL.

oriental andrew

January 23rd, 2019 at 9:37 AM ^

Look at any highly-trained athlete. This happens to many athletes who did football, basketball, baseball, gymnastics, swimming, softball, etc. As someone said, they are used to eating a certain amount to go with all the training and exercise, but when they stop the exercise and don't stop the eating, you get big. It may be more apparent in football just because the athletes are already so big, but it happens to athletes in many sports. 

Sidenote: I know a former collegiate distance runner who ran at 140-145 lbs. He is now close to 200 because he quit running, but didn't quit eating so much. 


January 23rd, 2019 at 9:37 AM ^

That might be true for the skill position guys who, anecdotally, seem to have this problem more than linemen. I've talked to some linemen from the college level and one that was a pro and when they were done, the first thing they wanted to do was slim down. They were so sick of carrying that weight and doing all that needs to be done to maintain it that they couldn't wait to eat normal and just do regular workouts. It's a lot of work for some of those guys to maintain 300+ lbs. Now, the guys who are doing the same amount of work to stay at 220 and lean are a whole different animal. 


January 22nd, 2019 at 7:57 PM ^

Not going to click here (relax, it's not a "thing," I only get a small handful of NYT clicks a month and I prefer to save them for stuff with more gravity, as NYT often produces) so I can't comment directly on the article. A weight limit in football would be a pretty radical idea, and while it would help keep the collisions in the trenches a bit more manageable, but with a lot of unintended effects (do you have a smaller weight limit for DLs to make it fair? Does a 260 "light" WDE become an unstoppable monster when the tackles he lines up against are limited to 280? etc). But the high speed stuff remains the biggest problem, and safeties and WRs aren't going to get smaller.

PEDs have a huge impact on the ballooning size of NFL players, in my opinion. Now they can have mass AND muscle AND speed, where before you basically had to choose one or maaaaybe two of those. 

Also, a lot of athletes of different sizes struggle with obesity after they play because they're used to intense workout regimes that consume massive amounts of calories, and they don't always reduce calorie intake enough after they're done. 

Of course some of the rest of us have problems balancing calorie intake and output as well. 


January 22nd, 2019 at 8:13 PM ^

Michael Phelps would eat 10-11,000 calories per day while training for the Olympics because he was burning it all to function at that peak level.  giant linemen when working out and operating at the top level in the NFL also eat a ton of calories.  Post football career they still have those same eating habits but aren't burning the energy so it packs on pounds.  

my cousin swam for Penn and he used to joke that he was a fat kid who swam a lot.  once he stopped swimming post college and started working for a large social media company he ballooned up a good 40-50 pounds.  


January 23rd, 2019 at 9:14 AM ^

The same thing happened to me as a high school swimmer.  I don't actually know what I weighed in high school, but I'm pretty sure it was at least 40 pounds less than now.

I really think this whole issue is not an NFL thing, it's just being presented as one by a media that likes to pile on the NFL for the health issues of its players.  Which is a legitimate issue, but this one is not at all limited to the NFL.  It's every athlete ever, at all levels from high school to pros, that once had to work their asses off and burned a whole bunch of calories and then stopped doing that without a corresponding change to their eating habits.  In fact, a lot of NFLers have the opposite thing happen to them: they get small again, which is really the thing that separates the NFL from others.


January 22nd, 2019 at 8:55 PM ^

I’ve spent a lot of time at home recently because of an illness. I’ve been so spaced out that I started watching NFL games from the ‘80s. The size and speed difference between those players and today’s players is striking. 

My impression is that a lot (most?) of the players in the ‘80s didn’t do much weight training - if they did, it wasn’t very efficient. But I assume that PEDs play a role in the stark difference too. 

Something else that stuck out to me while watching the old games was how brutal things were. Players were clearly concussed (“got his bell rung”) and then sent back to play. Headshots were just hard hits. 

Combining today’s safer rules with yesterday’s player sizes might have a significant impact on player health. But I’m not optimistic about the size issue.



January 22nd, 2019 at 8:28 PM ^

Just wait another 40 years and see how big the fellas get. If they continue on the same path, it will be spectacular. There might be a day where we see a 6’8”, 350# average OL running a 4.6 forty...


January 22nd, 2019 at 8:39 PM ^

I don't think having a weight limit is going to have much of an effect.  It's not like Marcus Ray would have come close to 250 lbs when he was playing, and look at him now.


January 22nd, 2019 at 8:41 PM ^

The fact that they get fat after they're done playing is their own fucking fault.


The only reason to implement a weight limit is if it is unhealthy to be that heavy even when you are playing.


Sidenote: I didn't actually click the article because I don't want to support a racist organization like the NY Times.  Copy paste the article contents into the OP if you want people to read it.


January 23rd, 2019 at 9:57 AM ^

I am not responding to the veracity of your comment regarding the NY Times.  That's your opinion.  

What I do want to comment on is why you felt that you needed to bring that opinion to this blog.  If you've read this blog for more than a minute, I am sure that you know the "no politics" rule. It exists because many of us like to come he and discuss something that we are all interested in - Michigan sports - without having those discussions sidetracked by political discourse.  If you want to discuss that, I am sure that there are comment threads on MSNBC, FoxNews, CNN, Drudge Report, Politico or any other political news organization.



January 22nd, 2019 at 8:43 PM ^

My mother was a high level athlete in the early 50's. She played basketball, baseball (not softball), volleyball, and was a diver, all on a collegiate level. (I honestly don't know how you do all those things . . . obviously before my time.)

She especially excelled at volleyball. The game was a bit different then, but at 5'11", she was the designated spike specialist. Mom would target one of the better players on the other team and spike it to knock them out. (Not literally, but they would sometimes be pulled because they "missed" a number of balls. Which was the strategy in spiking at them.)

The point of this story is that after her playing career ended, mom was a collegiate coach who gained lots of weight. Eventually, about 40 years later, she died of obesity related complications. I saw first hand what obesity could do to a person, and how this was something that happened to a former athlete. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see this with all kinds of athletes.


January 22nd, 2019 at 8:48 PM ^

I love football, but I’m more and more conscious of how bad it is for the players when I watch. I wonder if we’ll reach a point where fans demand what the players’ union struggles to achieve - better compensation for active players and lifetime care for retirees. 


January 22nd, 2019 at 9:30 PM ^

I wound up watching one of those NFL greatest hits videos on YouTube recently and had to turn it off halfway through because it was hard seeing guys just get leveled and realizing a decent number of them probably don't remember those hits anymore.

I really enjoy football - it's this unique combination of combat and chess, but it's simply not safe and I'm not sure if there are lots of viable methods to make it so beyond radically changing how it's played.  And maybe that's how you fix it.  But there's a fair bit of evidence that playing football for an extended period of time makes you more likely to suffer habitual, possibly debilitating injuries and have a shorter life expectancy, and I always feel guilty about actively encouraging these guys to take those risks for, in some tiny part, my entertainment.


January 22nd, 2019 at 11:23 PM ^

It's hard to argue with you, and I hate that this is so. It really is a magnificent sport. A game for all people and all seasons. Great strategy, great athleticism, great drama.

And the head hits are a serious, serious problem. 

There's been real progress at making some of these awful hits less common. I think more progress is needed, but there's progress. I would almost be optimistic that they were on track to resolve it...

If so many guys from slower, less muscle-bound eras weren't basically losing their memories and personalities so consistently. 



January 23rd, 2019 at 6:21 AM ^

... it was hard seeing guys just get leveled and realizing a decent number of them probably don't remember those hits anymore.

Unlike a lot of guys on this blog, I never played much football (quit after the 10th grade), and even when I did, I never saw the field much. But your comment reminded me of one day at J.V. practice, when I caught a short pass in the flat and turned upfield. The cornerback had me squared up, we both lowered our heads ...

And the next thing I knew I was looking up at the sky, with no clear memory of the previous two seconds. I got helped up, went back to the huddle, and that was that. I probably suffered a mild concussion, but I'll never be sure. There was no such thing as "concussion protocols" back in the day.

Now take that incident, and multiply it by the hundreds of times that it happens to a high school/college/pro player in games and practices. Yes, there are now protocols and targeting penalties, but the hits still happen, and the damage still adds up.

So I agree - watching those "bell ringing" hits from the past isn't as much fun when you know what's happening to the bell.


January 22nd, 2019 at 9:24 PM ^

You can't legislate weight, but a lot of athletes tend to be given weird, unsustainable diets that mess up their metabolism and then it follows them after their playing days are over.  I don't quite know what to do about that, but it's definitely not an issue people should dismiss.  For all the talk about CTE and the like, my guess is a ton of former NFL guys die from heart problems and other weight-related maladies.


January 22nd, 2019 at 10:09 PM ^

and 'overweight' is a relative term not defined by fat and adipose tissue. Muscle mass and carrying 350 LEAN pounds is still stress on joints, stress on the heart and organs. Doesn't matter how and why, and certainly anyone at 350 who isn't lean is likely facing diabetes and other weight related issues...but it's not as simple as stop eating...I was seriously undersized out of high school. My freshman year I had to pack on 70 pounds, and spent many a night at meal table matching a GA plate for plate...like it was my job. It was painful.


January 22nd, 2019 at 10:03 PM ^

its the players' natural bodies themselves.  it has nothing to do with the football in that correlation is not causation.  big guys who are athletes will gain weight when they get older.  its not steroids, its their body types. my football playing sons are super lean and i know they want to be 'big'.  i constantly tell them, 'look, you don't want to trade 4 years of being the 'big guy' for 4 decades of miserable weight issues'.