The NIOSH study, which aimed to “ investigate concerns that players were dying prematurely ,” did just that: Researchers treated players as if they were a group of patients, and their NFL careers as a type of treatment. They controlled for race and gender, because those traits defined their patient population before the treatment started. On the other hand, they did not control for player wealth because money can be viewed as a treatment outcome—it flows directly from the game. Football players tend to do quite well financially and rise in social status, just as they also tend to exercise and rarely smoke. These factors make them healthier, and as such they’re no less relevant to the central research question than the fact that players are disproportionately likely to get hit in the head on a daily basis or take anabolic steroids .
Owens was a supremely talented receiver, but he also was a supremely selfish player who submarined multiple franchises during his playing career. Owens forced his way out of San Francisco only to have a two-year stint in Philadelphia that ended with him doing sit-ups in a driveway before being suspended by the team. Owens resurfaced in Dallas, and that ended badly, too. After stints in Buffalo and Cincinnati, Owens’ 15-year career ended with Hall of Fame numbers. But he is having to wait longer because of all that damage.