John Urschel, MIT, NFL

Former NFL Lineman John Urschel Joins MIT Faculty As A Math Professor

John Urschel, the Baltimore Ravens lineman who once starred in a Bose commercial breaking down the math behind sound due to his MIT education, is now a professor at the prestigious university.

ESPN reported in 2020 that Urschel was embarking on a mission to diversify the field of mathematics after retiring from football to pursue a degree in applied mathematics.

Zippia reports that only 7% of math professors in America are Black, and a 2019 New York Times article explained that the number is worse at colleges like MIT.

According to Urschel’s homepage on the MIT website, he is currently an assistant math professor at MIT and has authored several research papers. Urschel describes his focus: “My interests largely consist of topics in numerical linear algebra, spectral graph theory, and certain topics in theoretical machine learning.” 

In 2017, Urschel retired just days after a study concerning the effects of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalitis) on NFL players and their brains was released. This fueled speculation that the lineman had retired because of the study, but he did not mention head injuries in his press release. The Baltimore Sun reported that team officials believed that a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that of the 111 ex-NFL players brains they examined, 110 showed signs of CTE, pushing Urschel to retire.

Urschel insisted that his reasons were unrelated to the study but instead revolved around his desire to attain his doctorate from MIT and to raise his family. Urschel posted a press release on Twitter, which read in part: “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 fiancé and preparing myself for the new challenges that come with fatherhood.”



At Penn State, Urschel completed two degrees, taught two undergraduate math classes, and won the William V. Campbell Trophy. According to Sports Illustrated, that award is the academic version of the Heisman Trophy.

After his graduation, his father, who is a renowned surgeon and fan of mathematics, tells SI that he was in the unenviable position of choosing the NFL or an academic career, saying, “he was a top-five pick,” and he was also “An elite math mind.”

Following his rookie season, Urschel applied to MIT, and as he became more involved in the program, his desire to do math outstripped his desire to be a professional football player. By Urschel’s third year in the program, he had fallen for MIT, telling SI, “It’s my favorite place in the world,” Urschel says with a huge smile.

“I love being here. I love every day I’m here. The happiest I’ve ever been in my life is when I’m at MIT. Ever in my life,” he shares. “EVER in my life! Happiest ever.”

And now, Urschel gets to be there every day teaching applied mathematics to young mathematical minds.

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