Former professional football players are not at a greater risk of suicide than the general U.S. population, according to a new study by the federal government.
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the suicide rate for nearly 3,500 retired National Football League players who played at least five seasons between 1959 and 1988 was less than half of what would be expected among a comparable selection of the general population based on gender, race and age.
The mounting evidence that football players can develop neurological problems due to concussions and repeated head trauma has prompted questions about whether those brain injuries might lead former players to kill themselves more often.
Several high-profile players, including Pro Football Hall of Fame member Junior Seau, committed suicide after developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease found in numerous former players that is linked to memory loss and erratic behavior.
Last month, a federal judge approved the NFL's estimated $1 billion concussion settlement with thousands of retired players.
The CDC emphasized that the study "adds to the current discussion about the relationship between playing football and suicide risk, but does not resolve the issue of whether suicide is more common among former football players."
The researchers did not have concussion histories or information like genetic or environmental factors that might contribute to suicide risk for any of the players studied.
The findings will appear in the May issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine.