Food for Thought: NFL Football’s John Urschel walks away from NFL, to pursue passion of “Making Mathematics Cool”

"Math isn't just about solving problems in class, it's training to solve the problems we face in life" 
      – John Urschel

Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel surprisingly retired from the NFL on in 2017 at the age of 26. 

A source told ESPN's Jamison Hensley that the results of a recent chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) study played a role in Urschel's retirement.

Urschel is pursuing his doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Yes, there are plenty of bright people in the NFL, and plenty of athletic math students in America.

But no one else has his combination of high-level achievement in professional sports and the seminar room.

[below] John Urschel and his mother, Venita Parker

“I really, really like it here,” [at MIT, Mass. Institute of Technology] he says. “We’ve just got such a great collection of so many brilliant mathematicians in different fields, applied and pure mathematicians, under the same roof.

I’m just blessed to be around these brilliant people at the pinnacle of their respective fields.”

That enthusiasm has been brewing for most of Urschel’s life. When he was growing up in Buffalo, his mother gave him puzzles to work on….

…to this day, he explains math to non-mathematicians by calling it a form of puzzle solving.

Urschel grants a few parallels between studying at MIT and playing in the NFL, but he says the comparisons go only so far. “In math, you have to be comfortable with failure,” he says.

“In football, that [failure] should never be a thing.” Working on math problems, he explains, involves trial and error to an extent that would never be tolerated on a football field.

“You have something you want to prove, and you try different ways to get at it,” he says. “You try this way, and it doesn’t work. You try that way—it doesn’t work. 

And finally, maybe, you get it. And when you get it, it’s an amazing feeling, the best feeling in the world.”

At Penn State, Urschel also started working with Ludmil Zikatanov, a professor with whom he has coauthored four of his nine papers.

Those papers cover areas such as spectral graph theory and feature titles like “Spectral Bisection of Graphs and Connectedness”.

“He is the best master’s student that I have ever had,” says Zikatanov. Despite the extraordinary degree of commitment required to play football at his level……"

"……..Urschel remains fully committed to pursuing math at the highest level, too", ­Zikatanov says. “He works hard, all the time.”

The 2014 paper Urschel and ­Zikatanov published together updates a theorem from the 1970s about how to divide a network……

…….picture a social network—into equal parts while cutting as few connections as possible and leaving the connections intact within each half.

John Urschel is continuing to inspire not only on the field, but also in the classroom.

The ex-Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman is teaming up with Texas Instruments, the creator of all the graphing calculators you used in school.

Together, they plan to introduce new sports related activities for the TI-84 Plus family of graphing calculators…

…..with the hope to inspire students to explore the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in sports, with their program, STEM Behind Sports.

[below] Whether rocking out or strumming along to a classical tune, John Urschel, teaming up with Texas Instruments, uses math to understand the rhythm and beat of any song.

The first program, “Field Goal for the Win!” is a free activity for students using TI-84 Plus and related calculators. The game makes students look at the math and science behind scoring a perfect field goal.

In the game students look at the relationship of time, distance and elevation, while building reasoning skills and discussing why a kick fell short or was good.

Urschel is excited to be involved and help kids fall in love with math like he has. “Math isn’t just about solving problems in the classroom,” he said in a statement.

“The connection between STEM and sports is a powerful one and understand this connection will help students succeed on the filed and off of it.”

[below] John Urschel showing Baltimore area High Scholers a thing or two about math [article here]

This also isn’t Urschel’s first adventure into encouraging math in everyday life. In June, Urschel  joined forces with Persado to show how math can be applicable to modern marketing.

There will be more programs being developed for the TI-84 Plus graphing calculator over the coming months, including ones based on running and swimming.

Sources to text of this article……….

Texas Instruments and Uuschler team up for STEM Program

BleacherReport.com Urschler retires to persue math career

From NFL to MIT, the double life of John Urschel

Urschel's Mom offers perspective on her son playing football

Baltimore Sun: Urschel inspires local students with math

~stay healthy~

 

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