According to a recently reported Mass General/Harvard Medical School study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, they assessed 87 college freshman football players, who played between 2008 and 2014, before they started their freshman year. Thirty were linemen; 57 played other positions. All of the players were part of the Harvard Athlete Initiative, an ongoing research project which tracks athletes’ health.
57 percent of the linemen and 51 percent of non-linemen had pre-hypertension upon examination before their freshman year. (Pre-hypertension is a blood pressure reading greater than a normal reading of 120/80.) After their first season, 90 percent of the linemen showed pre-hypertension, while only 49 percent of non-linemen had a blood pressure reading above normal.
And by using strain echocardiography, the study also revealed that the changes in blood flow corresponded with a thickening of the heart walls, and a decrease in the ‘contractile’ function of those heart walls: the heart was not able to push the blood through and out to the vessels with normal efficiency.
The Gospel According to Football Coaches is that any lineman brought to a college team can — by increased caloric intake — gain 40 to 80 pounds. But no one has ever studied the potential downside — until this study. Its results are ominous, and suggest that, like any ecosystem, the body may be imperiled by significant, marked changes inflicted by a new, stressful diet, and/or the grueling demands of being a college lineman.