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.

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 ...

Football Freakonomics: How Do Players' Body Clocks Affect Their Performance?

I have been lucky enough to visit the secret lair at the NFL's headquarters where each year a crew of industrious people try to come up with an NFL schedule that pleases every team, player, TV network, fan, mayor, police department, religious official, and sports pundit in America.

This is of course impossible.

But they do try their best, and in today's Times there's a nice article by Judy Battista about how this year's schedule was made by the NFL's Howard Katz and his team.

After you look over the 2012-13 schedule, you might also want to take a look at the latest Football Freakonomics video we've done for the NFL Network. It considers the "body clock" factor on teams' schedules:

Questions That Come to Mind After Yesterday's Football Games

1. Who is more in need of a witness-protection program today: Billy Cundiff or Kyle Williams? (I'd pick Cundiff even though Williams is guiltier.)

2. Looks like defense really doesn't win championships. Here's the regular-season defensive ranking (yards per game) of the four teams who played yesterday: Ravens (3rd); 49ers (4th); Giants (27th); Patriots (31st). Giants will play Patriots in the Super Bowl.

3. At least the Harbaugh parents won't spend Feb. 5 in a Sophie's Choice situation -- but I'm guessing they would have preferred to.

Let's Hear About Your Favorite Football Books

On Tuesday, we shot the latest batch of our "Football Freakonomics" videos for the NFL Network.

This project has been a blast. There are a lot of people involved on the production, research, and digital sides, and they are all high-caliber and fun to work with. Our first two batches of videos were shot in Brooklyn warehouses. But on Tuesday we stepped it up, and got to work in the New York Jets' indoor practice field out in Florham Park, N.J. (It was an off-day for the team, although there were plenty of players around doing individual workouts.)

I also ran into my old friend Nicky Dawidoff, a wonderful writer whose previous subjects range from ballplayer-spy Moe Berg to country music. He has been embedded with the Jets since summer and is writing a season-long account of the Jets that will, more broadly, be a book about the modern NFL.

What Do the NFL and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Have in Common?

Answer:

They are both reliant on the talents of the Rooney and Mara dynasties.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are majority-owned by the Rooney family. The late Art Rooney ("the Chief") ran the club for many years, ultimately giving way to son Dan, who has since given way to son Art Rooney II.

The New York Giants are 50 percent owned by John Mara. The late Tim Mara ran the club for many years, ultimately giving way to his son (and John's father) Wellington; there have been a variety of other Maras involved in the team.

A New Way to Think About Sports Injuries?

In a recent essay about NFL injuries for our "Football Freakonomics" series on NFL.com, I concluded:

If I were an NFL owner, GM, or coach, I'd set aside a little pot of money to try to answer some of these questions empirically. There is a lot of advantage to be gained by keeping even a few more players per season off the injured reserve list -- to say nothing of the fact that it's the right thing to do.

This prompted an interesting e-mail from Ryan Comeau:

Dynamic Athletics is a biomechanics company focused on athletes and people recovering from orthopedic injuries. Our technology has been in development for 8 years but we've only had our doors open for 7 months now. We process 3D motion-capture files in a way that deliver the full palate of kinematic & kinetic data (without force plates). This immense amount of data collected about an athlete's ability to move & how exactly they produce their movement, if managed properly, becomes a valuable time capsule for the athlete or those managing a team.

"Football Freakonomics": How Much Do Injuries Hurt?

The following is a cross-post from NFL.com, where we’ve recently launched a Football Freakonomics Project.

It doesn’t take a genius to argue that injuries can have a massive effect on an NFL team’s fortunes. This season, we may be living through the most heightened example in history of that fact. The Indianapolis Colts, with Peyton Manning sidelined since Week 1 with a neck injury, currently stand winless at 0-12. Over the previous five seasons with Manning in charge, the Colts have gone 61-19 during the regular season.

How can the absence of one player, even a star quarterback, have such an impact? As Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders contends in the latest episode of Football Freakonomics: “Not only were they built around him offensively, but the defense was generally built around them getting the lead and then having defensive ends just tee off on the opposing QB while the other team has to pass to try to catch up.”

The Manning-less Colts are losing off the field too – attendance is down, Manning jersey sales are down, and some Colts fans have jumped on the “Suck for Luck” campaign, figuring that if the Colts are going to be bad they might as well be bad enough to snare Andrew Luck with the top pick in the draft.

Why the NBA Players Keep Losing to the Owners

The following is a guest post by David Berri, a Professor of Economics at Southern Utah University. He is also the lead author of Stumbling on Wins, the general manager of the sports-economics blog Wages of Wins, and is a frequent contributor to the Freakonomics blog.

In the past couple weeks I have written about labor negotiations in the NBA and the recent labor agreement in Major League Baseball. Now that we have agreements in both sports, thanks to the new NBA deal, I would like to address why the two unions involved in these negotiations have historically achieved such different outcomes.

Let’s begin with how the outcomes are different.

What Happens When You Ice Your Own Kicker?

In our Freakonomics Football episode "Why Even Ice a Kicker?", Stephen Dubner explores the NFL fad of calling a timeout just before the opposing team's kicker attempts a crucial field goal. The idea is to get into the kicker's head, and make him think about all that pressure he's under to make a big kick. The practice has become all but routine in the NFL, even though, according to the data, it doesn't work, and in some cases even backfires.

But what about when a coach ices his own kicker?

That's essentially what Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett did on Sunday during a game against the Arizona Cardinals. With the score tied at 13, and just seven seconds left in regulation, Dallas rookie kicker Dan Bailey lined up for a potential game-winning 49-yard field goal. Right before the snap, Garrett called timeout. Bailey kicked it anyway, and nailed it. His second attempt? Not so good— he shanked it, wide left. The game went into overtime, and Dallas ended up losing 19-13 to the Arizona Cardinals.