Bart Oates Weighs in on his Health and Wellness Journey

Photograph of Art Oates

Professional sports teams go to great lengths to help their athletes stay healthy, so that they can perform at their best. But what happens to a pro’s health when he or she retires?

When former New York Giant and three-time Super Bowl Champion Bart Oates left the NFL, he decided to take personal accountability for maintaining—and improving—his health. It was a personal mandate that would eventually turn into a mission—and a message that he’s bringing to other ex-NFLers.

Bart recently enlisted a few former pros for his NFL Alumni Optimal Wellness Challenge, a 90-day competition to see who can make the most dramatic improvement in their health. And diagnostic testing is one of the measures they’ll be employing. “The first thing we’ll be doing,” Bart points out, “is turning to diagnostic testing to pick out the areas we want most to improve.”

“Today’s diagnostic capabilities are just phenomenal,” Bart said. “Twenty years ago, doctors couldn't have gotten this kind of data and results even if they wanted to.” He should know: two decades ago, Bart was one of the league’s premier offensive linemen, and an army of team trainers was dedicated to keeping him at the top.

“Everybody is different,” Bart says, “but this sort of testing can tell you exactly how you can personally optimize your wellness.”

One key indicator of health that the former All-Pro center is challenging his fellow NFL alumni to pay attention to is their weight, something he struggled with during his 11 years in the NFL, and 14 years total in professional football.

Bart came out of high school at about 230 pounds. “Out of college, I entered the NFL at about 260 pounds, and every year after that I put on a little weight,” he explains, “because as an offensive lineman in the NFL you needed to be large—very large.”

As the NFL evolved during the 1980s and 90s, so did Bart’s body. “The NFL was getting bigger,” Bart explains, “so there was pressure, understandably, to put on weight. Suddenly, the defensive linemen were bigger, other offensive linemen were bigger, and the kids coming out of college were bigger.”

The Giants were careful that players didn’t get larger than necessary by issuing a cap, or maximum, weight. But while most players were trying to sweat their extra pounds off, Bart was consuming 8,000 to 12,000 calories a day to keep up with the NFL’s demand for size.

“1983 was my first year in the pros; and I got my weight up to 265, 270, and then 275; I felt pretty comfortable,” says Bart, “and then, in the ’88 and ’89 drafts, the Giants used the first two picks, both times, on offensive linemen, and all four of them were over 300 pounds—big boys! But that was just the nature of it.”

At the close of each season, the players would have a sit-down session with the coach, who, invariably, would issue the same career advice to Bart: "You had a good year, but you need to get bigger."

“I finally reached that point where I was at a weight that the coaches were happy with,” he recalls. “By the time I retire, I’m 290.”

At that weight, after more than 20 football-related surgeries, Bart was afraid that his mobility and overall wellness were at risk. “I had seen enough guys who had left the game and had not maintained an active lifestyle,” says Bart, “and they were suddenly dealing with a greatly diminished quality of life.”

He could envision the same happening to him if he didn’t make some changes in his post-career years. “There are things you can do in your twenties that you just can’t get away with in your forties and fifties,” says Bart. “You need to change as your body changes.”

“So, I took my health into my own hands,” Bart says, “I stopped lifting heavily, I stopped eating such obscene amounts of food essential to keeping the weight on.”

“I was able to lose weight fairly easily,” Bart continues, “but losing weight in and of itself is not especially healthy and doesn’t necessarily translate into a healthy lifestyle. Today, I weigh between 210 and 215 and am in pretty decent shape, but there are lots of things that I can do to optimize my wellness.”

That’s why Bart has changed his eating and exercising habits, embraced diagnostic testing, and is bringing his NFL Alumni Optimal Wellness Challenge to the public eye.