ATLANTA -- Playing football is not hazardous to your health -- unless you're an offensive or defensive linemen. That was a conclusion of a study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and released by the NFL Players Association yesterday.

The study of 6,848 players who played between 1959 and 1988 revealed that 46 percent fewer players died compared to an equal number of males of similar age and race in the general population.

That research suggests that former football players will live as long as the average male, although the majority is still too young to determine at what age the average player dies.

There had been anecdotal evidence that football players died younger than normal males, but the study refutes that. The NFLPA called it a "myth."

The study, though, did show that offensive and defensive linemen have a 52 percent chance of an earlier death because of heart disease.

Gene Upshaw, the NFLPA president who's a former lineman, said that's because of the size of a lineman, not because of

playing football.

But NIOSH researcher Dr. Sherry Barron said even high school and college players should be wary of "bulking up" to play football.

"They should consider the very real threat of heart disease," he said.

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