Urschel re­tires to pur­sue PhD

TWO DAYS AF­TER CTE STUDY RE­LEASED

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - MARISSA PAYNE

Some­thing about play­ing pro­fes­sional foot­ball does not add up any­more for Bal­ti­more Ravens of­fen­sive line­man John Urschel.

On Thurs­day, just two days af­ter a new study re­vealed in­creas­ing ev­i­dence con­nect­ing the de­gen­er­a­tive brain disease chronic trau­matic en­cephalopa­thy (CET) to the high­est lev­els of the game, the 26-year-old re­tired.

The Ravens, where Urschel played for three sea­sons, made the an­nounce­ment on­line.

“This morn­ing John Urschel in­formed me of this de­ci­sion to re­tire from foot­ball,” 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 en­deav­ours.”

Urschel, who has not pub­licly com­mented on his de­ci­sion, has a sec­ond ca­reer lined up. A doc­toral can­di­date in math­e­mat­ics at the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, Urschel al­ready has nine pub­lished or ac­cepted re­search pa­pers to his name, ac­cord­ing to the school’s mag­a­zine MIT Tech­nol­ogy Re­view. His spe­cial­ties in­clude dis­crete Schrödinger op­er­a­tors, high di­men­sional data com­pres­sion, al­ge­braic multi­grid and Voronoi di­a­grams.

“I have never had a stu­dent like him,” Prof. Lud­mil Zikatanov, who taught Urschel as an un­der­grad and mas­ter’s stu­dent at Penn State, told The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Michael S. Rosen­wald last year.

Urschel has said he en­vi­sions a “bright ca­reer” for him­self in math­e­mat­ics. He has also said, how­ever, “I love hit­ting peo­ple.”

He’s never been shy about dis­cussing the pos­si­ble risks to his brain from play­ing foot­ball, and in fact, in a 2015 es­say for the Play­ers’ Tri­bune, said he en­vied Chris Bor­land, who re­tired from the NFL at age 24 over con­cerns about CTE.

“Ob­jec­tively, I shouldn’t (play foot­ball),” Urschel ad­mit­ted in his es­say. He added, though, that his pas­sion for the game over­rode the pos­si­ble risks.

“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,” he wrote. “This is a feel­ing I’m (for lack of a bet­ter word) ad­dicted to, and I’m hard-pressed to find any­where else.”

It’s un­clear whether Urschel, who par­tic­i­pated in all the team’s train­ing ses­sions dur­ing the off­sea­son, sim­ply no longer feels that same pas­sion, or if he now de­ter­mined the risk to out­weigh his love of the sport.

Urschel and his agent Jim Ivler did not im­me­di­ately re­turn The Post’s re­quests for com­ment.

If it’s the lat­ter, how­ever, it would hardly be a sur­prise fol­low­ing the re­lease of a study this week con­ducted at Bos­ton Univer­sity School of Medicine and the VA Bos­ton Health­care Sys­tem. Re­searchers stud­ied the brains of 112 for­mer NFL play­ers who died in re­cent years and di­ag­nosed 111 with CTE.

“Ob­vi­ously, this doesn’t rep­re­sent the preva­lence in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, but the fact that we’ve been able to gather this high a num­ber of cases in such a short pe­riod of time says that this disease is not un­com­mon,” neu­ropathol­o­gist Ann McKee told The Post’s Rick Maese this week. “In fact, I think it’s much more com­mon than we cur­rently re­al­ize. And more im­por­tantly, this is a prob­lem in foot­ball that we need to ad­dress and we need to ad­dress now in or­der to bring some hope and op­ti­mism to foot­ball play­ers.”

While Urschel is the youngest player to re­tire this week to con­tinue to pur­sue his PhD, he’s not the only one. Re­ceiver An­drew Hawkins, 31, who had signed a one-year deal with the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, ended his ca­reer as well. He also pledged to do­nate his brain to CTE re­search in the fu­ture. Hawkins plans to pur­sue his doc­tor­ate in busi­ness and eco­nom­ics.

STEVE RUARK, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

John Urschel has re­tired from the Bal­ti­more Ravens to pur­sue a PhD in math­e­mat­ics at MIT.

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