NEW YORK (AP) -The retired players from at least one famed NFL team are in no worse health than the general population, according to a study to be released next week.
Researchers surveyed members of the 1968 New York Jets, who won the third Super Bowl, delivering on Joe Namath's guarantee. The ex-players suffered from arthritis at a higher-than-normal rate, but their overall health was similar to that of the average American man in the same age range.
The study, which appears in the October issue of The American Journal of Sports Medicine, was conducted by researchers at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital, a group that included three former Jets team physicians.
The report comes as the health of retired NFL players is garnering great attention, with Congress holding two hearings on the league's disability benefits in recent months. The study's authors lament a lack of research on the health of former players.
``I was surprised,'' said Malachy McHugh, the Nicholas Institute's director of research. ``I went to search the literature on this and couldn't find anything.''
Another of the study's authors, Dr. Stephen Nicholas, acknowledged he expected to find the players in worse health than the general population. But he cautioned that the findings might not be representative of NFL players as a whole.
The '68 Jets' success - and their celebrated status within the community - may have lifted their future attitudes and opportunities, Nicholas said. The former players seemed to have continually sought and received quality medical care over the years.
``I was surprised by the amount of success of these people, both professionally and personally,'' Nicholas said. ``I was surprised by their general demeanors and how they approached their disability.''
Like Nicholas, two of his co-authors - his father, the late Dr. James Nicholas, and his uncle, Dr. Calvin Nicholas - are former Jets team physicians, which meant they had access to the retirees' medical records from their playing days.
The ex-players filled out a widely accepted health survey called the SF-36, which required them to describe their condition in ways that are ultimately subjective, McHugh said.
The 36 questions include items asking respondents to rate their health, report how much pain they experience, and answer whether they are limited in various activities.
The authors speculated that the ex-players might describe the same medical problem less negatively than a non-athlete. They might view their discomfort differently because of a high tolerance for pain and their favorable attitude toward the sport that caused the discomfort. All but two former Jets rated their careers as somewhat or very fulfilling.
The former players seem to have done a good job of staying in shape, Nicholas said. He also speculated that his father's innovations in medically evaluating players meant that the Jets fielded a healthier team than most.
Thirty-six of the 41 members of the '68 Jets were surveyed 35 years after their Super Bowl championship; three had died and two could not be reached. Two-thirds of the players reported suffering from arthritis, compared with 40.7 percent of men over 65 as a whole.
The ex-Jets without arthritis had SF-36 physical health scores that were 19 percent above average. The players with arthritis had scores that were statistically similar to the general population.
The former Jets were much more likely than the general population to have undergone knee replacement surgery, especially if they suffered knee injuries as players - Namath has had both of his knees replaced. But they were much less likely to have diabetes.
Their death rate was lower than the norm for their age range.
Walter Thompson, a professor of kinesiology and health at Georgia State University who reviewed the study for The Associated Press, said that while the report can't be generalized to the NFL as a whole, it does raise the question whether the state of former players' health is as bad as feared.
``That particular team is still a microcosm of pro football players,'' he said.

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