Monday, February 5, 2007

Weighing out the Possibilities.

Athletes dream about throwing the game winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, or hitting the game winning homerun in the World Series. No matter the sport, whether it is football, baseball, racing or snowboarding, there is a desire to perform well, succeed and of course, have fun. Many up and coming athletes share the same dream that I use to have, to play at the professional level. These hopes and aspirations allow goals to be set and can play a crucial role in the development of great athletes. On the other hand, having high hopes and aspirations can lead people to do things that are harmful to themselves. The harm is when goal related thinking takes over your health, and the athlete would do anything to accomplish goal. Football is one of the biggest sports in America; and I do not mean just big in popularity, I mean big in the size of the athletes, especially linemen.

According to a recent study done by researchers at Iowa State University, they “found that nearly half of the offensive and defensive linemen playing on Iowa high school teams qualify as overweight, and one in 10 meet medical standards for severe obesity.” This trend is also being found in football teams in all states from the high school level to the professional level. The study also said, “For years at the pro and college level, teams have sought bigger, stronger linemen who are harder to budge. Players have responded by adding weight and muscle mass, making the 300-pound linemen fairly common, sports medical experts said.” To add support to this finding, a study conducted by The Scripps Howard News Service found, “The average weight in the NFL has grown by 10 percent since 1985 to a current average of 248 pounds. The heaviest position, offensive tackle, went from 281 pounds two decades ago to 318 pounds.” This is leading to several harmful medical effects. The obesity trend in linemen is creating higher rates of diabetes among retired linemen. Despite the health risk associated with the increased size, these linemen that are fifteen to eighteen years old are eating and hitting the weights trying to reach the prototypical size of three hundred pounds, sacrificing health for a scholarship or maybe even an NFL contract.

Dr George Philips, a pediatrician at the University of Iowa's Sports Medicine Center says, “Most of these kids aren’t going to play professionally or even at the college level. So what we need to do is to make sure if they’re going to add weight, muscle mass, that they do it in a healthy way.” Jennifer Jarvis, a writer for the life after sports website says, “Only 5 percent of college athletes go on to play sports professionally, the other 95 percent are forced to build careers.”

For the retired athlete, life after sports becomes a struggle, especially for those who have sacrificed their health at a young age. Many retired linemen are showing many health problems as they age and in some serious cases, death has even occurred. A study by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety found that, “while players generally weren't dying sooner than average, offensive and defensive linemen had a 52 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than the general population.” Retiring from a sport can be difficult transition. This transition can also lead into cases of depression which can further lead to more health problems. As study presented in the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine shows, “the prevalence of moderate to severe depression was nearly 15 percent, very similar to the prevalence in the general public. But the frequency with which the retired players reported problems with pain – nearly half the people in the study – puts them at significant additional risk for depression and associated difficulties.”

With the constantly growing popularity of football, so has there been an increase in size of the athlete. This increase in size is leading to more heart disease, diabetes, and even death. We can still enjoy the game without the linemen weighing three hundred pounds. If steps are not being taken now then what will happen? With the growing trends in obesity in football, one could only hope that it does not reach down to the levels of junior football where there is already an increase in size of children at this age.

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