Death brings weight issue to light

Pro Football

August 28, 2005|By KEN MURRAY

WHETHER OR NOT Thomas Herrion's death after an NFL preseason game a week ago proves to be weight-related, the league now has an obligation to answer the most basic of health concerns.

What is the price of success in the offensive line? In the tradeoff for money and fame, what is the cost to players who weigh upward of 300 pounds so they can better protect their quarterback?

Herrion, a third-string guard, died shortly after he completed a 14-play drive for the San Francisco 49ers. After reportedly complaining about playing in Denver's mile-high altitude, Herrion, 23, collapsed in the locker room and died despite the best medical treatment he could have received in those circumstances.

Because the autopsy was inconclusive, the league will have to wait for the toxicology reports before drawing any conclusions. Whatever the outcome, it is time for the league to address in detail the risks of a sport where bigger is almost always better, and where monetary incentives can often obscure the bounds of common sense.

Herrion was listed at 6 feet 3 and 310 pounds, but coach Mike Nolan admitted he probably weighed closer to 330. That, by the standards applied to the general population, would be morbidly obese. But football players are apart from the general population, and therein lies the rub.

Two measures of dealing with obesity are body mass index and percentage of body fat. But they fall short of characterizing professional football players for obvious reasons.

"We don't know enough about obesity in the NFL and what it really means," said Dr. Mark Kligman, director of the center for weight management and wellness at the University of Maryland Medical Center. "All of the measures we have on these players are somewhat problematic because they weren't designed for people with this much muscle mass.

"Here's the reality: [The NFL] needs to be pro-active. What you're dealing with is long-term health risk with these individuals. Since we don't have all the necessary data, we have a rough cut, and all we can say is they're [either] obese or morbidly obese by our current definitions."

During a visit to the New England Patriots last week, commissioner Paul Tagliabue portrayed the league as "being ahead of the curve in terms of understanding how big [players] should be, what kinds of characteristics they should be able to display, what kinds of performance levels they should be able to achieve and so on."

Tagliabue also said the league has a committee that includes team physicians and medical experts outside the NFL who are collecting data on cardiovascular health. Results are not available yet.

This much is known: In 1986, there were 10 players in the NFL who weighed 300 or more pounds. Last season, there were about 350. They deserve answers on the subject of cardiac risk.

Housecleaning

When Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage dealt wide receiver Andre Davis to the Patriots, it marked his fifth trade since taking over in January. And it was one more statement on the draft prowess of former coach Butch Davis.

Only 15 players remain from Davis' 29 draft picks from 2001 to 2004. Andre Davis was the 21st player who started at least one game for the Browns in 2004 to leave.

On top of that, Cleveland got only a fifth-round pick in return for a player they drafted in the second round.

Seeking reinforcements

In an effort to prepare for a "what if" scenario, the Kansas City Chiefs last week signed quarterback Jonathan Quinn, who was 0-3 as a starter with the Chicago Bears in 2004.

Trent Green, 35, has started 64 straight games for the Chiefs. The last thing the Chiefs can afford is an injury to him.

Backup Todd Collins has completed 18 passes in seven years as a backup in Kansas City, but he's out with a fractured hand and might not be ready for Week 1. The Chiefs also have Damon Huard.

Scattershooting

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