Thomas Herrion’s death after Saturday’s preseason game between the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers is nothing short of a tragedy. But the blame game is even worse.
Obesity and weight-loss experts are split on the issue, but speculation from other folks is rampant that Herrion’s size — 6-foot-3, more than 310 pounds — contributed to his death. To further such speculation is the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) by Dr. Joyce Harp, an assistant professor of nutrition and medicine at the University of North Carolina, and graduate student Lindsay Hecht of UNCGreensboro. The study used body mass index (BMI) to show that 97 percent of the NFL’s players during the 2003-04 season were overweight and that 56 percent were obese. The study is flawed because BMI is a height-to-weight ratio that fails to consider the amount of muscle a person has against the amount of fat. In my other life, I have more than 13 years of experience as a fitness professional. And I would take the health and fitness levels of the stereotypical NFL lineman over 6-3, 310-pound John Doe any day. “Except the average person of that weight isn’t going to be as active to the degree that a lineman is in the NFL,” said Dr. James Day, who is the founder of the Colorado Center for Weight Management in Lakewood. “He’s not going to be putting his heart under as much stress.” If that’s the case, why aren’t there more deaths? Day’s allies are quick to point to Reggie White, who died of sleep apnea. They point to Korey Stringer, too, who was trying to lose weight. “The person who is overweight but is physically fit will have a longer life than a person being a couch potato,” Colorado Springs-based Dr. George J. Juetersonke said. Obesity is one of Juetersonke’s areas of specialty. This isn’t suggesting that behemoth linemen are poster children for fitness. But John Doe citizen is a lot less peripatetic than many, if not all, of the NFL’s players. Show me another 6-3, 310-pound man who expends the kind of energy Herrion did for five days a week, and I’ll show you one of Herrion’s peers — another NFL lineman. Juetersonke, however, takes issue with the culture that pressures these players to gain massive amounts of weight. “Who knows what these athletes do to try to put on the weight?” Juetersonke said. “Most people exercise hard to lose weight. It’s kind of a paradox that they exercise to gain weight.” The culture concerning NFL size is warped. Too many young football players believe bigger is better. But that’s the nature of competition. That mentality is no different from driving 180 mph around an oval and always wanting to go faster. It’s no different from trying to ride a 2,000-pound bull and complaining if the bull isn’t bucking enough. If we’re going to judge the girth of NFL linemen, then we need to put them on par with the rest of the country. People should use a body fat analysis to determine what’s obese and what’s not. For a 20-to 29-year-old man, a body fat of greater than 21 percent is considered poor. For a 30- to 39-year-old man, a body fat of greater than 24 percent is considered poor. Using that method, there still will be several dozen players who are overly fat, but we’d get past this ridiculous assertion that there is a serious weight problem in the NFL. If folks want to focus on a serious problem, then look at obesity rates for the general population in the United States. For that group, BMI is a good measuring stick. “Obesity-related medical conditions contribute to 300,000 deaths each year, second only to smoking as a cause of preventable death,” said a 1996 study published in JAMA by the National Task Force on the Prevention and Treatment of Obesity. Herrion’s status as an NFL lineman makes his death national news. It has sparked a lot of debate, which is good. But please, folks, look at the national numbers, and put the situation into perspective. Columnist Milo F. Bryant can be reached at 636-0252 or email@example.com INCREDIBLE BULK Larry Allen, right, is listed by the Cowboys at 6-foot-3 and 325 pounds — about 10 pounds heavier than Thomas Herrion, the 49ers guard who died Saturday. But in NFL terms, he’s almost tiny. There are at least 13 players who weigh 350 pounds or more: Leonard Davis ARIZONA, T 6-6, 366 pounds Ted Washington OAKLAND, DT 6-5, 365 Dante Ellington BALTIMORE, T 6-6, 363 Rolando Cantu ARIZONA, G 6-5, 361 Orlando Brown BALTIMORE, T 6-7, 360 Mike Williams BUFFALO, OL 6-6, 360 Brandon Evans HOUSTON, G 6-4, 356 Qasim Mitchell CHICAGO, T 6-6, 355 Stacy Andrews CINCINNATI, T 6-7, 350 Toniu Fonoti SAN DIEGO, G 6-4, 350 Maake Kemoeatu BALTIMORE, DT 6-5, 350 Brandon Kennedy DETROIT, DT 5-10, 350 Courtney VanBuren SAN DIEGO, T 6-6, 350