Archives for football



Brain Trauma in Soccer

Our very first Freakonomics Radio podcast focused on brain trauma among NFL players, and its link to chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Researchers now believe they’ve identified the first case of C.T.E. in a soccer player; from The New York Times:

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head, has been found posthumously in the brain of a 29-year-old former soccer player, the strongest indication yet that the condition is not limited to athletes who played violent collision sports like football and boxing.

The researchers at Boston University who have diagnosed scores of cases of C.T.E. said Patrick Grange of Albuquerque represents the first named case of C.T.E. in a soccer player. On a four-point scale of severity, his was considered Stage 2.

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Marijuana and the NFL

One of our very first Freakonomics Radio podcasts focused on brain trauma among NFL players. Writing for Vice, David Bienenstock argues that NFL players might benefit hugely from medical marijuana. He points to an editorial in the Washington Post earlier this year, describing research indicating that marijuana could protect player’s brains from the long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries:

As it turns out, recent studies are starting to contradict the notion that marijuana kills brain cells. Last year, researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel gave low doses of THC, one of marijuana’s primary cannabinoids, to mice either before or after exposing them to brain trauma. They found that THC produced heightened amounts of chemicals in the brain that actually protected cells. Weeks later, the mice performed better on learning and memory tests, compared with a control group. The researchers concluded that THC could prevent long-term damage associated with brain injuries. Though preliminary, this is just one of many promising studies exploring marijuana’s benefits for the brain.

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An On-Field NFL Death: We Stand Corrected

From a reader named Eric Geyer:

I was listening to one of your first podcasts, “The Dangers of Safety.” In the podcast, you say “There hasn’t been a single on-field death in the NFL.”

This isn’t completely true — there has been one, I remember it from when I was a kid. A player for the Detroit Lions named Chuck Hughes collapsed and died in the field in 1971. This doesn’t invalidate your point from the story — his death was not related to a football injury, but was caused by a heart attack.

Anyway, in case no other overzealous pedant hadn’t pointed this out, I thought you would like to know :)

Thanks, Eric.



Is the Analytics Revolution Coming to Football?

In the New Republic, Nate Cohn explores the small but growing role of advanced statistics in football. Projects like Football Freakonomics notwithstanding, the NFL isn’t usually thought of as a realm where stats hold all that much sway, in part because the game is so much more of a complex-dynamic system than, say, baseball. Here’s Cohn on one big change fans might notice if more coaches start relying on statistics:

The one place where fans could see analytics at work is in play calling, which also happens to be the place where analytics could impact the average fan’s experience of the game. The numbers suggest, for instance, that teams should be aggressive on fourth down, and that it’s better to go for first down with a lead in a game’s final minutes than to run the ball on third down to run out the clock. Yet even the teams with well-regarded analytics departments, including San Francisco and Baltimore, largely adhere to a conservative and traditional play calling approach: the coaches “just aren’t listening to them yet,” [Brian] Burke says. And the few coaches with a reputation for following the statistics, like New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, aren’t even close to as aggressive as the numbers would advise.  

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Just How Bad Are Football Pundits at Picking Winners?

Answer: pretty bad! From a 1999 Journal of Business paper by Chris Avery and Judy Chevalier … Read More »



How Can A New College Football Coach Avoid Getting Fired?

More than 25 college football teams have decided to change head coaches in the past few weeks.  As the new coaches get hired and settled into their new jobs, one suspects that all of them believe that they will be the person who will change the fortunes of their new schools.

Unfortunately – as published research seems to indicate – it doesn’t seem likely that many of these coaches will really make a difference. Aside from that ambition, these coaches are definitely hoping to stay in their current position until they decide to voluntarily leave for an even better paying job.  In other words, these coaches hope to avoid getting fired. Read More »



Is Changing the Coach Really the Answer?

Much of the focus today on college football is on the teams at the top.  Will Notre Dame win the national title and finish undefeated? Can Alabama win another championship?  Then there are the 34 other bowl games.  In all, 70 teams have an opportunity to finish the year as a winner.

For those without this opportunity, though, this past season was a disappointment.  For these “losers,” the focus these past few weeks has been strictly on preparing for the next season.  And part of that preparation appears to be changing the head coach.

Already, at least 25 schools have announced that the head coach from 2012 will not be on the sideline in 2013.  For some, this is because a successful team lost their coach to another program.  In many instances, though, teams have asked a coach to depart in the hope that someone else will alter their team’s fortunes. Read More »



A Clarification on the Immaculate Reception (and Conception)

In the “Immaculate Reception” documentary that premiered last night on the NFL Network, I was called upon to discuss the religious provenance of the play’s name. Here’s what I say in the program:

People thought it was about the Virgin Birth. It wasn’t about Jesus. It was about the Immaculate Conception, where Mary is visited by an Angel of God and therefore becomes pregnant without having been touched by sin.

So I started out on the right track, by clarifying that the Immaculate Conception is a different event than the Virgin Birth, that it refers to the conception of Mary, not of Jesus. But then the explanation gets garbled as I plainly misspoke — said “Mary” instead of “Mary’s mother,” or “Anne.”

I’ve already heard from several viewers, and I apologize for the error and the confusion. I will talk to the producers about perhaps getting it straightened out. I guess that’s why I prefer writing to talking — you can plainly see your errors and fix them before they become real! Read More »