It’s amazing that he pulled it off.
Back in July, disturbing research came out that found 99% of former NFL players studied were diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a serious degenerative disease that can cause anything from amnesia to suicide. After hearing about the study, Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel promptly quit the game in the prime of his career after just three seasons in the league.
While the mental health of all NFL players is important, Urschel had a secret reason for protecting his brain: He’s a full-time student getting his doctorate in mathematics at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He didn’t tell anyone that he was a full-time student during football season.
Photo via Jeffrey Beall/Wikimedia Commons.
Urschel hid his studies from his team because he knew they’d consider it a distraction from the game. “I did not tell anyone this. Well, except MIT,” Urschel revealed to the “Freakonomics” podcast. “But I don’t think an NFL team would be extremely happy to hear that I’m working towards my Ph.D. also in the fall.” Urschel took a correspondence course that allowed him to study without having to be on campus.
“I took courses which I thought were very manageable in season — areas that I was more or less familiar with previously, classes which had a textbook, which the professor followed the textbook and I would just do the assignments and then just send them in,” he told the podcast.
How did Urschel manage to study while living the hectic and painful NFL life? “I would play the game on Sunday. Then from Sunday — suppose it’s a home game, one o’clock kickoff. I get home around 5, perhaps 5:30. From Sunday, 5:30 p.m. until Tuesday, say, 11 a.m. — when I have to go into the Ravens — all I am doing is MIT coursework and math,” he said.
Urschel’s story is one of extreme bravery. Not only has he stared down the scariest things known to man — defensive lineman and doctorate-level math problems — but he turned away from fame and fortune to pursue his education.