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The Inside Track

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January 14, 2003|Larry Stewart

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here. One exception: No products will be endorsed.

What: "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel."

Where: HBO, tonight, 10.

The NFL has a big problem -- in the most literal sense. Fifteen years ago, there were about five 300-pound linemen in the league. Now there are more than 300.

The NFL's weight problem is dealt with in the featured segment on the latest edition of HBO's "Real Sports."

A 1994 study by the NFL Players Assn. showed that although most NFL players enjoyed above-average health, linemen were 52% more likely to die of heart attacks than the average American.

And now, NFL linemen are, on an average, about 50 pounds heavier.

Bryant Gumbel, the show's host, chose to tackle this story himself. Among those he interviewed was former New Orleans Saint defensive tackle Frank Warren. The interview was conducted on Dec. 9. Five days later, Warren, 43, died after suffering a heart attack at his home in Pleasant Grove, Ala.

Warren, who had battled a drug problem during his playing days and was suspended for the 1990 season, retired in 1994.

He tried a comeback in 1996 but suffered a heart attack. Doctors found three blocked arteries and told Warren he probably didn't have long to live.

"I still think about that every day, that this could be my last day," he told Gumbel. "Every night, when I go to sleep, I wonder, 'Will I wake up the next day?' It scares me. I have six kids and I just hate the thought of dying before I'm able to make sure they become positive, productive human beings."

Warren also told Gumbel that, even if he'd known what he knew later, that if he'd had it to do all over again, he'd still have played in the NFL, citing the money and the glory as the two main reasons.

Physiologist Mackie Shilstone says that he fears that within five years, an NFL lineman is going to have a stroke and die on the field.

It's a heavy issue, and "Real Sports" gets to the heart of it.

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