Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel has retired from the NFL just before the first full-team practice of training camp. His decision came two days after a medical study indicated that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was found in nearly 99 percent of deceased NFL players’ brains that were donated to scientific research. A team source said that the findings weighed heavy on Urschel’s decision to retire.
The study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that of the 111 NFL players whose brains were studied, 110 of them had signs of CTE, which can lead to memory loss, depression and dementia—often years or even decades after players retire. Several top names in the game- including Junior Seau, Frank Gifford, John Mackey and Kenny Stabler — were diagnosed with the disease after their deaths.
Coach John Harbaugh said he was surprised when Urschel called him 90 minutes before practice to inform him of his retirement. “He said he’s going to retire from football, that it was something that’s been on his mind for quite a while and throughout the offseason.”
In August 2015, Urschel suffered a concussion in a helmet-to-helmet collision, which he said “I think it hurt my ability to think well mathematically,” Urschel said. “It took me about three weeks before I was football-ready. It took me a little bit longer before my high-level visualizations ability came back.”
Urschel will now pursue his PhD in Mathematics fulltime at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, focusing on spectral graph theory, numerical linear algebra and machine learning. He had been pursuing it in the offseason prior to his retirement. Urschel was recently named to Forbes’ “30 under 30” in the field of science. He has published six peer-reviewed mathematics papers to date and has three more ready for review. According to the Ravens website, Urschel is an expert mathematician who gets straight A’s while also grinding away in the NFL trenches.
Urschel who played on the offensive line for three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, received a $144,560 signing bonus when joining the Ravens in 2014. The bonus prorated at $36,140 per year. With one year left on the contract, Urschel owes the Ravens $36,140 upon retirement.
Urschel released a statement shortly after the announcement. “Thank you to everyone for the kind words today. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I believe it was the right one for me,” Urschel said in a statement. “There’s no big story here, and I’d appreciate the right to privacy. I’m extremely grateful to the Ravens, and blessed to have been able to play the game I love at the highest level.
It is a great game. There are some games — like the playoff game at Pittsburgh — that I will never forget. I’m excited to start working on my doctorate in mathematics full time at MIT. I’m looking forward to the chance to take courses that are only offered in the fall semester, while spending time with my fiance and preparing myself for the new challenges that will come with fatherhood. We’re expecting our first child in December.”