he thrill of watching the controlled violence of a professional football game is a singular experience. It has been said that the rigors of a single down of NFL football leaves the participants functionally disabled for the rest of their lives. The game of football has evolved over the years and the modern game has required football players to be bigger, faster, smarter and hit harder than ever thought possible in the past. The net effect of all of this shows up, not on the field, but many years later. The average NFL linemen today is between 6.0 and 6.8 tall and 300+ pounds often leading to obesity, sleep apnea and cardiovascular risk factors over 3 times the national average.
A 2005 study by the University of Northern Carolina found that more than 25% of the NFL’s players fit the category of Class II obesity. A 2006 survey by Scripps Howard newspapers of the deaths of 3,850 professional pro football players over the last century found that the heaviest players were more than twice as likely as lighter players to have died before their 50th birthdays. A study by the University of Connecticut titled, “Body size and composition of National Football League players,” showed that the increase in body mass in players since the 1970’s was primarily focused in the offensive and defensive line.
It has been widely reported that Reggie White, a 43-year-old, 300-pound defensive end of the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers died of complications associated with diagnosed, but untreated sleep apnea. White was a Hall of Fame caliber defensive end and he was the NFL’s defensive player of the year twice. He was also selected by his peers for 13 consecutive pro bowls.
The NFL alumni association and the NFLPA have recently decided to not only raise the issue of undiagnosed sleep apnea in their membership, but also to lend their considerable star power to inform and educate their fans, about the dangers of sleep disorders. Enter David Gergen, President of the Pro Players Health Alliance (PPHA), an organization that presents community awareness programs featuring medical and dental professionals with retired professional football players to provide the community link. David Gergen, CDT is a lifetime football fan, player and award winning Pop Warner football coach. PPHA, NFLPA and the NFL alumni association have created a program of local meetings where diagnosed and undiagnosed sleep apnea patients can come and hear stories and testimonials from their gridiron heroes as well as receive an educational message from medical and dental professionals with special training in Sleep Medicine. David was inspired to start the PPHA by his friend Derek Kennard All NFL Lineman and Super Bowl Champion with the Dallas Cowboys. David fabricated an oral appliance for Derek to wear while he sleeps. Derek has sleep apnea, but is unable to wear his CPAP device because he finds it bulky and uncomfortable. Since receiving the oral appliance Derek has had the energy to exercise again and has lost over 150 lbs.
Last month the PPHA was in Tacoma WA. The room was filling up and you could feel the atmosphere building, all of a sudden the crowd started cheering. David just smiled and said, “I guess Warren Moon just arrived.” Warren Moon was recently selected for the Football Hall of Fame. To hear David tell it “sleep apnea takes lives and that merits national awareness. With these events, we plan to spread the awareness and tackle sleep apnea throughout the country.” Tony Dorsett, widely considered to be the most popular Dallas Cowboy player to have played the game was quoted at the recent PPHA event in Dallas this past weekend, “I want to let people know how important it is to get treatment and how getting treatment can not only effect your health, but it can save your life.”
This is clearly an opportunity for the NFLPA and PPHA to give back to the fans and also on some level to help the retired football players who have given us all so much over the years. David Gergen reports that there are 12 events planned for the next 6 months in various cities around the country. Visit the website of The Pro Player Health Alliance and come out to one of the events in a city near you.
Randy Clare is managing editor of SleepScholar, Aliso Viejo, Calif.
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