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Optimum Performance: The psychological impact of being an NFL player |

By all practical standards, NFL players have it pretty good. They get paid quite well with excellent healthcare benefits, the potential for lucrative high-paying endorsements, tremendous fame and the admiration of adoring fans. During the offseason, players are even paid for showing up four days a week to workout.

The minimum NFL salary is $375,000 (with a median salary of $770,000 spanning an average career length) if the player makes an opening day roster.

Sports Illustrated reported in March of 2009 that “by the time they had been retired for two years, 78 percent of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress due to joblessness or divorce.”

The New York Times reported in 2009 that “polls, studies, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the divorce rate in the NFL is between 60 to 80 percent, where nearly half of marriages end up in divorce, but comparable to other sports.”

In comparison, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the current United States divorce rate is 3.6 divorces per 1,000 of population with 44 states reporting data.

Based on the Week 3 NFL injury report of all 32 teams, there were 299 injury notations, which listed players as either ” probably, questionable, or out” for games. With an active NFL workforce of 1,696 players, roughly 17 percent were experiencing some form of pain or discomfort, which may have required medical care such as treatment, surgery or medication.

The Saints accounted for 15 of those notations, while their Week 3 opponent, Arizona, which the Saints soundly defeated 31-7, only listed seven. Saints wide receiver Lance Moore left the game in the fourth quarter with an undisclosed injury and did not return. | The Times-Picayune columnist Jeff Duncan noted last week the Saints were missing six defenders. Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan told Duncan: “I haven’t really noticed, and I know we have good players out and everything. We have a whole roster, and whoever is in, it’s the next man up. It’s always been that way in the NFL, and we just go on with what we have.” But what happens from a psychological standpoint to an NFL player whose tenure has been impacted either by a career-threatening or career-ending injury. Could Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which we associate with combat veterans, in some form be recognized as a potential NFL injury, either during or after a player’s career?

“If PTSD was an issue, I think it would effect NFL players after their career more than during,” says David Yukelson, Ph.D., Director of Sport Psychology Services at Penn State’s support center for student-athletes.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers.”

Yukelson added, “on the other hand, the statistics you cite earlier (relative to NFL players) reflect transition issues, identity issues, and if not properly prepared for life after football before they retire, there can be some problems, reflective of PTSD symptoms.”

Dr. Howard Osofsky, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at LSU’s Health Sciences Center said, “there is much evidence that sports injuries requiring athletes to miss one or more weeks of playing time results in increased symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder.”

Let’s hope for the player’s sake that they seek out professional help, if necessary, to cope with the physical and emotional demands of playing in the NFL.

Link: Optimum Performance: The psychological impact of being an NFL player |