By Frederick H. Lowe
John Urschel, one of the brightest men to play in the National Football League, has retired from the Baltimore Ravens to pursue a doctorate in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“I’m excited to start working on my doctorate in mathematics full time at MIT,” Urschel said. “I’m looking forward to the chance to take courses that are only offered in the first semester, while spending time with my fiancée and preparing myself for the new challenge of fatherhood. We’re expecting our first child in December.”
Urschel announced his decision to retire about the same time the NFL released the medical test results of 202 deceased players who suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, which is caused by repeated blows to the head. The symptoms are memory loss, confusion, depression and dementia that occur many years after the player takes off his uniform for good.
Most of the players affected by CTE were linemen. Urschel played center.
The 26-year-old Urschel did not say if the risk of CTE led him to retire, but he had previously written about how he envied Chris Borland, a former linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, who retired early in his career fearing a brain injury.
Urschel was entering his fourth season in the NFL, and Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he respects Urschel’s decision.
Urschel’s doctoral concentrations are spectral graph theory, numerical linear algebra and machine learning. He earned his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in mathematics at Penn State. He has written peer-reviewed papers for mathematics journals.