Offensive lineman John Urschel started 13 games for the Ravens over the last three seasons, but, in general, he has gotten more notice for his mathematical ability than his football ability.
Urschel is going to have more time to crunch numbers in the near future. The Ph.D. candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has decided to end his playing career.
“This morning John Urschel informed me of his decision to retire from football,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in a statement. “We respect John and respect his decision. We appreciate his efforts over the past three years and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”
Urschel did not provide a statement about his reasons, although his bright future as a mathematician would seem to be the obvious answer. In a 2015 piece he wrote for The Players Tribune, Urschel wrote about being asked why he’d play given that future and the risks inherent to life as a professional football player.
“I play because I love the game,” Urschel wrote. “I love hitting people. There’s a rush you get when you go out on the field, lay everything on the line and physically dominate the player across from you. This is a feeling I’m [for lack of a better word] addicted to, and I’m hard-pressed to find anywhere else.”
Urschel was expected to be in the mix to start at center for the Ravens, who traded last year’s starter Jeremy Zuttah to the 49ers during the offseason. Ryan Jensen and Matt Skura are the other in-house candidates in Baltimore.
The average football fan probably can't name too many offensive linemen. Maybe they can name their favorite team's starting five, but after that who knows? As a former linemen myself, I understand why. Linemen don't have any stats, they're usually fat, probably ugly, they play in the trenches and for the most part get unnoticed.
As Tom E. Curran once said a left tackle is like a water heater:
"Time for a tortured metaphor. A very good left tackle is like a very good hot water heater. You don’t spend time gushing about the hot water heater when it’s doing its job. You just luxuriate in that warm water. And NFL fans don’t generally spend much time high-fiving over the protection afforded by their left tackle. They just enjoy the damn passing game. When the hot water heater goes out, there’s hell to play. When the left tackle is beaten, same thing."
The offensive line makes everything that happens on the offensive side of the ball possible, yet they usually get none of the credit.
Not too many people can name backup offensive linemen, but that didn't apply to John Urschel.
Urschel gained notoriety for being the smartest man in football, thanks to his work in mathematics.
Now after a study that showed CTE in 110 of 111 brains of deceased NFL players that John Urschel has decided to give up the game he loves to go be a NERD. He'd rather hit the books, than hit the sled.
But in all seriousness, I think it's a smart move by Urschel. He's not some All-Pro caliber linemen hanging up his cleats in the middle of his career, he's a backup offensive linemen. A backup offensive linemen whose got a much brighter future after football that he doesn't want to jeopardize. He just has decided that he'd rather solve quadratic equations on a chalkboard outside a classroom at MIT than trap block defensive ends.
What I find interesting though, is this new CTE study. While I am in the camp of believing that football can cause serious brain trauma, I do find these new findings a little misleading. It's 110-111 brains that were donated to science. It's not like 110 out of 111 football players will get CTE (at least for now). These are dudes who probably knew that something was wrong. I feel like run of the mill normal people don't donate their body to science. You do when there's a reason science wants you. When you start yanking out your teeth out and gluing them back in, or grabbing a gun to shoot themselves in the heart, it's a pretty good sign things aren't going great inside your head, and maybe it wouldn't be the worst idea to FedEx you brain to Massachusetts. But I also I don't believe that playing football is definitely going to give you brain damage, but it sure ups the odds.
To me football is like smoking cigarettes. There was a time when people didn't know how deadly cigarettes are. People didn't know how horrible they are for you. There were ads saying shit like how more doctors smoke Camels. Think about how crazy that is for a second. Doctors advertising cigarettes. Now nobody can advertise cigarettes.
Now we know that smoking cigarettes probably is going to kill you, but people still do it. It's their right to do so (their stupid right). Smokers will love to tell you something like that their grandma smoked a pack of day and lived to 94, but for every one of those there's like a thousand Terrys from that nasty ass commercial dying.
I don't think it's that extreme in football (but it could be), the main issue was that people were lied to for years and didn't know the repercussions of playing the game. Now that people do, they have the choice to walk away, like John Urschel did.
Even though more and more guys are retiring young to better their chances of avoiding CTE, I don't think football is going to die anytime soon. For every guy who retires there's another 1000 out there fighting to take his job. While I credit John Urschel for walking away to pursue a career in Mathematics, I still believe football will be fine with or without him. Pretty crazy though that there's a human on this planet who was good enough to get drafted, and play in the NFL, that can also be like "Yo fuck this, I'm gonna go to MIT and work on my math theory that is probably going to change the world".