Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Weir answers congressional questions on health trends in retired NFL players

The author of a U-M study on the needs of retired NFL players testified before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday on the role of his research in the debate over how to best address dementia in former pro athletes.

David Weir, associate director of the Survey Research Center at the Institute for Social Research, told the panel that “faced with the aging of the U.S. population, we are all looking for policies and programs to serve the needs of people after a lifetime of hard work. This unique population of retired football players is an intriguing place to look for challenges and solutions.”

Weir joined Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner; DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, members the medical community and former football players in testifying.

His study came to the attention of the members of Congress following recent articles in The New York Times highlighting a finding that “diseases of memory are rare, but NFL retirees report higher rates. At 6 percent, the older group of retirees is particularly high.”

During his testimony, Weir emphasized his was not a medical study and, therefore, he could not assess the severity of dementia among NFL retirees. “We can’t draw a conclusion and no responsible scientist would do so,” said Weir. A follow-up study by Weir is expected help further shed light on the issue.

Among the other findings of his report were that the overall college graduation rate for NFL retirees was 80 percent — significantly higher than the general population rate of about 30 percent.

Also, while they experienced high rates of arthritis, retired NFL players were less apt to have diabetes and cardiovascular disease.