NFL's 'Smartest' Man Retires Due to CTE Study, Despite its Flaws

By Erik Lief — Jul 28, 2017
John Urschel, 26, an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, abruptly retired from the NFL. The decision by the soft-spoken genius pursuing a math doctorate at MIT, came just two days after the release of a a weighted CTE study, which stated that of the late NFL players' brains 99% tested positive for the disease's irreversible, degenerative brain damage.
John Urschel (credit: Urschel)

He was widely considered the smartest player in the NFL.

That assessment wasn't defined by how he played or approached football, but rather by what was under his helmet and between his ears. That's because when John Urschel wasn't defending his quarterback on the Baltimore Ravens' offensive line, the deep-thinking, soft-spoken genius was working towards his math doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But at the age of 26, Urschel, the well-liked and highly-regarded lineman, abruptly retired from the NFL after just three seasons. His decision came two days after a high-profile study was released, which stated that in the brain tissue studied of 111 late NFL players, 110 were diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a type of irreversible and degenerative brain damage.

While Urschel's Twitter post explaining his decision did not refer to CTE, his "decision was linked to the results of the study," reported, citing a team source.

It should be pointed out that the study was hardly representative of the brain health of all NFL players, since the brain tissue studied was provided by families of deceased players who suspected that brain damage existed. So while 99% of those cases revealed the presence of CTE, that figure cannot be considered accurate and representative of the players' brain health today.

That said, the study – as skewed as it was – was enough to make up Urschel's mind, a sharp one at that. And given his bright future in mathematics, playing in the NFL simply no longer added up.

Urschel, who in 2015 suffered a concussion and was knocked unconscious, a helmet-to-helmet incident that temporarily affected his math abilities, is expecting his first child with his wife in December.

Needless to say, brain damage is a scary thing. And while Urschel's decision was not based on scientific proof, he apparently didn't need to wait around for that to arrive. Blessed with a beautiful mind, he luckily can put it to use a few years ahead of schedule as he starts his second career.