This NFL Player Is Better At Math Than You Are - InformationWeek

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3/24/2015
03:43 PM
David Wagner
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This NFL Player Is Better At Math Than You Are

NFL Player John Urschel is a great football player and a great mathematician.

Vegas Geeks: What Happens Here, Stays Here
Vegas Geeks: What Happens Here, Stays Here
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An NFL Player could totally do your job. Could you do his? John Urschel, a 6'3", 300-pound mountain of a man, plays guard for the Baltimore Ravens and just published his third peer-reviewed paper in a math journal. This one is called "A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians."

Urschel is a regular researcher on numerical linear algebra, multigrid methods, spectral graph theory, and machine learning. He could also literally throw you, as he has competed in shot put and discus. Oh, and just for fun, he studied the orbits of asteroids and published a paper on that, too.

The first question I have is: What are you doing with your time? Why am I not writing any story about an IT pro playing football in his spare time? I'd even settle for alligator wrestling, or people wrestling, or at this point, world tiddlywinks champion. You're making us look bad.

Look at this guy:

He could destroy your data center with his bare hands, and then rebuild it just for fun with his bare hands. And he's gained weight (all muscle, I'm sure) since that picture was taken.

All kidding aside, Urschel is amazing. The dude drives around in an old hatchback and lives off less than $25,000 per year, despite having millions in the bank. He plays football, does math research in his "spare time," and also authors a column for the Players Tribune. He's written a very touching article on the fear of brain injury in football for someone as smart as he is.

[ Does anybody really know what time it is? This guy does. Read NTP's Fate Hinges On Father Time. ]

Another of Urschel's columns for the Players Tribune offers his views on the typical academic major chosen by college football players. The post serves to indict even academically inclined schools, such as Stanford, for what Urschel considers to be the fake education players receive while playing football. Urschel, for his part, earned both a BS and a Masters in math from Penn State. His article on how the transitive property applies to college football is fascinating, too.

Of course, I'm not really expecting you to play football. Not all of us are born to carry 300 lbs. Few of us are born to be math researchers, or study machine learning. I do believe that, right now, someone reading InformationWeek is just as awesome as Urschel. Maybe you're climbing Everest, or running a marathon in flip flops. Maybe you're running a cloud and also painting masterpieces.

InformationWeek's IT Life section is about all the life of an IT Pro. I'd like to know a little bit more about what you do in your life. It doesn't have to be as amazing as having an NFL career or publishing academic papers. Being a parent, or running a company on the side is just as amazing. I want to hear about you, or your colleagues, and the challenges you willingly accept that take you far beyond your day job. Tell me about it in the comments section below, or hit me up on Twitter @geekenddave. Tell your story. You might find it on InformationWeek. I'd love to talk more about all of what you amazing people do.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
4/3/2015 | 6:14:41 PM
Re: Mathematicians' stereotype
@kelly2. I agree with you.  I think sometimes our media gives more attention to the negative news about NFL players that those who are making a difference.  I bet becuase they get greater ratings.  This person should really be the poster man for the NFL.  NFL commissioner I hope you are listening. 
impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
3/31/2015 | 1:07:55 PM
education and athletics a peaceful coexistence
It's a great story to share with you people are athletically inclined . So many feel that athletic skills overshadow academic capabilities . This is an excellent demonstration of how they can live together and prove successful for this man . I hope the story is more widely shared by football coaches with their young athletes across the country .
dried_squid
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dried_squid,
User Rank: Moderator
3/30/2015 | 3:43:43 PM
I like math
Thanks for the story. The title is well chosen.

 

Not only that, he's better at football than I am. I've lost my passion for many things, but not mathematics. I wonder if he's read William Dunham's "Journey Through Genius" or Morris Kline's "Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty? They have enhanced my sense of the subject.

 

In any case, I admire people who are recognized as successful for more than just a lot of money, or acclaim, in only one thing - Steve Martin on a banjo or Bill Bradley in the Senate.

 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but there was a quarterback for the Browns who did mathematics, Frank Ryan.

 

As far as the player himself or herself goes, there are some who think more of themself than a number on jersey. Try this one -

The Ghost of the Gridiron


W. C. Heinz (1915–2008)
From The Top of His Game: The Best Sportswriting of W. C. Heinz

http://storyoftheweek.loa.org/2015/01/the-ghost-of-gridiron.html

about Harold "Red" Grange.

 

Have a good week.
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
3/30/2015 | 3:11:20 PM
Re: This NFL Player Is Better At Math Than You Are
Paul, I agree with you. Athletes and celebrities are just real people, with real people flaws --- sometimes flaws excentuated by their extreme lifestyles these people live. Then again, that's what makes someone stand out if they are capable of living in that celebrity world, excelling at their job, broadening themselves to be successful in other pursuits, while also being a standup citizen. Children should have role models in their daily lives --- parents, siblings, teachers --- but it doesn't hurt to have role models in the fields they aspire to.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
3/30/2015 | 12:50:36 PM
Re: Great story but...
@PaulS681 True, it would certainly be generous for this NFL pro/math whiz to donate his time and talent to his community. Regardless of whether or not he does, though, I think he still serves as an outstanding person for young athletes to look up to. Definitely more so than other pro athletes taking up space in today's headlines.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
3/30/2015 | 10:59:01 AM
Re: Mathematicians' stereotype
@pedrogonzales also agree. It would be great to see the media highlight accomplishments like these instead of put the spotlight on all the alleged crimes that players commit.
nasimson
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nasimson,
User Rank: Ninja
3/30/2015 | 8:29:11 AM
Re: Mathematicians' stereotype
@Angelfuego: when an NFL player hits another car while he is drunk thats news. When another player hits on a new scientific discovery that's not newsworthy. God bless our media.
Angelfuego
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Angelfuego,
User Rank: Ninja
3/29/2015 | 9:13:45 PM
Re: Mathematicians' stereotype
@PedroGonzales, I also hope that he doesn't get an injury that would impede his mental capacity. If he chooses to retire or is forced to retire due to an injury, hopefully it will not impede his cognitive capacities, I think he will have a solid safety net to fall back on. He is setting up a strong foundation that will manifest to various opportunities. Finding a Plan B should not be a problem for him.
Angelfuego
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Angelfuego,
User Rank: Ninja
3/29/2015 | 3:05:29 PM
Re: Mathematicians' stereotype
@Technocrati, I agree. I am sure he is not the only NFL player like this. There are many intelligent and kind players. Unfortunately, the media primarily highlights the behaviors of NFL players whose behaviors are the polar opposite.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
3/29/2015 | 1:55:09 PM
Re: Mathematicians' stereotype

@PedroGonzales     I agree.  The NFL has to change with the times, just like individuals.   There was a time when we honestly didn't expect much from football players other than football.   But I am assuming there are many more positive players like this in the league.

 

While we can't expect them all to be "rocket scientist" surly the bar can be raised.

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