NFL lineman retires after three seasons to pursue PhD, decision reportedly linked to CTE study released two days ago
By Guardian Sports | Thursday 27 July 2017 16.00 EDT
Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel has abruptly retired from the NFL after just three seasons, the team announced on Thursday.
The 26-year-old from Winnipeg, who is a doctoral candidate in applied mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was expected to compete for a starting role at center or guard in training camp, which gets under way this week in suburban Baltimore.
Urschel’s surprise decision comes two days after the release of a medical study that further underscored the link between the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and participation in football. Researchers at Boston University and the Boston Veterans Affairs health system examined 111 deceased NFL players’ brains that were donated to scientific research and found CTE in 110 of them, or 99% of those studied.
The Baltimore Sun and ESPN said that Urschel’s decision was linked to the results of the study, citing anonymous sources close to the team.
Urschel’s agent, when reached by the Guardian on Thursday, said the player has no statement or comment and will not be doing media at this time.
“This morning, John Urschel informed me of his decision to retire from football,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in a statement Thursday. “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 has been pursuing his doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the offseason with a concentration on spectral graph theory, numerical linear algebra and machine learning. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s in mathematics at Penn State, where he played on the football team and was chosen by the Ravens in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft.
A January profile of Urschel for HBO’s newsmagazine Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel found the lineman at odds with reconciling his two gifts. He further elaborated on the dilemma in a first-person essay for the Players’ Tribune in 2015.
“I recognize that this is somewhat irrational, but I am doing it,” Urschel told HBO’s Bernard Goldberg. “It’s more important to me that I’m able to do the two things I love. I don’t know if people have really done things that I’ve done before. I don’t know if they’ll do it after me. But I enjoy carving out my own path and not listening to what people say I can and I can’t do.”
By retiring after three full seasons, Urschel is eligible for an NFL pension.
Urschel is not the first player to attribute early retirement to fears over the connection between football and CTE.
In March 2015, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland retired after one season, a promising rookie campaign that saw him lead the team in tackles, due to concerns over the long-term effects of head trauma.