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Football: A Painful Game

Football is a tough game, and players need plenty of testosterone in order to win, and studies of wrestlers demonstrate how this hormone helps men win. The winners of wrestling matches have greater increases in testosterone levels than losing wrestlers. In both groups, testosterone levels increase from before to after the match. However, the increase was greater for wrestlers who won their matches. The findings are consistent with studies linking testosterone changes to aggressive and competitive behavior in male animals.

In the January 31st edition of the New Yorker, in an article titled "Does Football Have a Future?" Ben McGrath writes that football rules were "reformed" to include the forward pass in 1905, at the instigation of President Teddy Roosevelt, after 18 players died on the field in a single year. In his new biography of this father, Ron Reagan mentions that he often seemed to be in his own world, and he suspects that his father was getting Alzheimer's long before it became obvious. Old photos of President Reagan often showed him in his college football regalia, wearing only a thin leather helmet.

Retired NFL players use painkillers at a much higher rate than the rest of us. Researchers say the brutal collisions and bone-jarring injuries associated with football often cause long-term pain, which contributes to continued use and abuse of painkilling medications. Researchers asked 644 former NFL players who retired from football between 1979 and 2006. about their overall health, level of pain, history of injuries, concussions and use of prescription pain pills. They found that the former players who are currently using painkilling opioid drugs is over four times the rate of opioid use in the general population. Medications that fall within this class of drugs include morphine, Vicodin, codeine and oxycodone.

Researcher Linda B. Cottler says, "More than half used opioids during their NFL careers, and 71% had misused the drugs. That is, they had used the medication for a different reason or in a different way than it was prescribed, or taken painkillers that were prescribed for someone else." And those who misused the drugs during their playing days were more likely to continue misusing them after retiring from football. Offensive linemen had particularly high rates of use and misuse of opioids. Former St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Kyle Turley says, "I know guys that have bought thousands of pills. Tons of guys would take Vicodin before a game." It turns out that our favorite sport is no less violent than the ancient Roman gladiatorial battles.

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