While the study methods were not very scientific, players' growing girth "is a major concern," said Dr. Arthur Roberts, a former NFL quarterback and retired heart surgeon whose Living Heart Foundation works with the players' union to evaluate heart-related health risks faced by current and retired players.
"These larger body sizes are generally associated with greater cardiovascular risks," Roberts said.
The increasing emphasis on size may be a bad influence on "all the young kids that play football around the country ... and are trying to be like their heroes," Roberts said.
Players' union spokesman Carl Francis said health and safety are "discussed all the time," and that while some players likely are obese, it's not a major problem.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello called the study substandard and said there's no proof obesity is worse in the NFL than in U.S. society in general, where about 30 percent of adults are obese, based on BMI data. "This was not a serious medical study," he said.
Dr. Brian Cole of Chicago's Rush University Medical Center, an orthopedic surgeon who works with the Arena Football League, also questioned the study methods and said some teams list inaccurately high weights to appear more intimidating.
"While clearly there are pressures for increased size" in professional football, relying on published height and weight data but not physical exams is faulty, he said.
Julie Burns, a nutritionist who works with the Chicago Bears, said combining BMI data with players' waist measurements is a better fat indicator because some highly conditioned athletes with a high BMI also have a large amount of lean tissue.
Jurkovic said he weighed 272 in the mid 1990s — hefty by any standards on his 6-foot-2 frame — but was pressured by a coach to get even bigger and ballooned up to 328. On the BMI scale, that's morbidly obese. Jurkovic said he had already maxed out on weightlifting so he packed on mostly fat by gorging.
Combined with the physical toll of football, excess weight wears down joints and causes problems as players age and then retire, Jurkovic said. At 37, he now weighs a "chunky" 295 and has ankle problems he blames on football and excess weight.
"It's tough for the league to police, but I think they should try to police it," he said.
By Lindsey Tanner