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Ravens Lineman Retires to Pursue MIT Doctorate after CTE Study Released

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Baltimore Ravens guard John Urschel warms up before an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014, in Pittsburgh. Photo: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel retired this week from the NFL after just three years in the league. Urschel, 26, will pursue full time his doctorate degree in math from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

On social media, Urschel wrote that “there is no big story here,” but the decision came just two days after the release of a study in which 110 of 111 brains of former NFL players showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated hits to the head. The disease is most commonly found in professional athletes in American football, rugby, hockey, boxing and other contact sports.

Urschel released a statement on Thursday: “Thank you to everyone for the kind words today. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I believe it was the right one for me. There’s no big story here, and I’d appreciate the right to privacy.

“I’m extremely grateful to the Ravens, and blessed to have been able to play the game I love at the highest level. It is a great game. There are some games — like the playoff game at Pittsburgh — that I will never forget.

“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 fiance and preparing myself for the new challenges that will come with fatherhood. We’re expecting our first child in December.”

Urschel has not publicly said his decision was directly related to the CTE study results, but ESPN reported that it indeed was, according to anonymous sources within the Ravens organization. Urschel, who played college football at Penn State, was selected by the Ravens in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft. He has sustained one recorded concussion in the NFL after a head-to-head collision in 2015.

He would not be the first NFL player to retire after just a few years because of CTE and concussion-related reasons. Buffalo Bills linebacker A.J. Tarpley and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland both retired for fear of long-term cognitive damage from concussions.

The disease was studied by Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist who conducted the autopsy of Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster which led to the groundbreaking discovery. For his efforts, Omalu earned the United States Sports Academy’s 2016 Dr. Ernst Jokl Sports Medicine Award.

By Eric Mann

Eric Mann is the communications assistant at the United States Sports Academy. 

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