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Personal Networks and Health of Former NFL Players

March 9, 2021

Think about the most important people in your life:

From our relatives to our casual acquaintances, and even their connections with one another, these are the people who make up our personal social network.

The people in this group influence us in profound ways. Research has shown that a strong personal social network can have remarkable benefits for one’s health and quality of life. Recently, our research scientists set out to map the networks of former NFL players. These networks of 303 study participants were compared to a control group of 269 American men who had not played professional contact sports. While the benefits of social networks have been examined in the general population, this is the first time they have been studied in contact sport athletes.

What We Found

As outlined in our publication, the networks of professional football players differed in some ways from the control group:

What These Results Mean for You

This research is especially relevant for professional football players, some of whom have experienced traumatic brain injuries and are living with chronic health conditions. Those who experience chronic illness or brain trauma see reductions in the size of their networks, which can exacerbate their existing health problems. Larger personal networks actually help to mitigate the damage brought on by brain trauma and chronic illness.

Your social calendar isn’t the only thing that gets a boost when you stay connected with your friends and family. Being in touch with those in your personal network may enhance your health and theirs. Reach out to a loved one, send a message to a good friend to say hello, or set up a video chat with former teammates.

We know that the COVID-19 global pandemic has put a strain on social networks by limiting in-person gathering. The resources below can help support you and your social networks during these unprecedented times.


COVID-19 Support Resources

Social Networks

Depression and anxiety

Community Resources

If you are in distress or require immediate assistance, please contact the NFL Lifeline at 1-800-506-0078 or visit their website to chat with a trained counselor.

If you have questions about this information, please email our team or call us at 617-432-5000.