Baltimore Ravens Offense Lineman @MathMeetsFball Is 10,000x Smarter Than You, Publishes Complex Math Study
Does this sentence make any sense to you?
“In this paper, we develop a cascadic multigrid algorithm for fast computation of the Fiedler vector of a graph Laplacian, namely, the eigenvector corresponding to the second smallest eigenvalue.”
Now what if I told you it was written by an NFL offensive lineman?
You wouldn’t believe me. “Football players can’t be smart!” is the common thinking, right?
Because an NFL offensive lineman authored it. John Urschel is on the O-line for the Baltimore Ravens. He is a math wiz, graduating from Penn State with a 4.0 in mathematics before entering the 2014 NFL Draft. He actually has both a bachelors AND a masters degree in math from PSU. He is 10,000x smarter than you.
This past week Urschel’s paper on “A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector” was published in the Journal of Computational Mathematics:
My paper, A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector…, has been published in the Journal of Computational Mathematics
— John Urschel (@MathMeetsFball) March 18, 2015
“In this paper, we develop a cascadic multigrid algorithm for fast computation of the Fiedler vector of a graph Laplacian, namely, the eigenvector corresponding to the second smallest eigenvalue. This vector has been found to have applications in fields such as graph partitioning and graph drawing. The algorithm is a purely algebraic approach based on a heavy edge coarsening scheme and pointwise smoothing for refinement. To gain theoretical insight, we also consider the related cascadic multigrid method in the geometric setting for elliptic eigenvalue problems and show its uniform convergence under certain assumptions. Numerical tests are presented for computing the Fiedler vector of several practical graphs, and numerical results show the efficiency and optimality of our proposed cascadic multigrid algorithm.”
This is what it looks like:
Urshel loves math, possibly much more than flattening people in football. Look at how much he nerded out on Twitter on Pi Day:
Happy Pi Day!!!! Take some time to check out all of its properties and the amazing things it’s involved in. My favorite is Euler’s identity.
— John Urschel (@MathMeetsFball) March 14, 2015
What a nerrrrddddd!
Last week Urschel published a post on The Player’s Tribune about why he envies Chris Borland for retiring from the NFL at the age of 24 over concerns about his future health. He also talked about his future career outside of the NFL in mathematics.
Naturally, I believe that I have a certain insight into this dilemma, due to my non-athletic pursuits. In particular, I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s in mathematics, all with a 4.0, and numerous published papers in major mathematical journals. I am a mathematical researcher in my spare time, continuing to do research in the areas of numerical linear algebra, multigrid methods, spectral graph theory and machine learning. I’m also an avid chess player, and I have aspirations of eventually being a titled player one day.
It is a simple truth. Playing a hitting position in the NFL can’t possibly help your long-term mental health.
With all of these interests outside of the sport, I am often asked why I play football, how I feel about brain injury, and if that’s something I think about. This question has come up in NFL combine interviews, media interviews, and even in casual conversation with fans or fellow mathematicians. It can range from the very tame “You have such a bright future; aren’t you afraid of hurting your brain?” to the much more direct “You’re a fool for playing football, where are your parents?” I can assure you, I have received both ends of the spectrum and everything in between.
It’s not rude to ask. It’s not some taboo topic that offends. It is a simple truth. Playing a hitting position in the NFL can’t possibly help your long-term mental health. However, it’s also true that how bad such a pursuit is for you is something that, I believe, no one really knows for sure right now.
I have a bright career ahead of me in mathematics. Beyond that, I have the means to make a good living and provide for my family, without playing football. I have no desire to try to accumulate $10 million in the bank; I already have more money in my bank account than I know what to do with. I drive a used hatchback Nissan Versa and live on less than $25k a year. It’s not because I’m frugal or trying to save for some big purchase, it’s because the things I love the most in this world (reading math, doing research, playing chess) are very, very inexpensive.
So why does he still play? Because he loves hitting people, duh:
I play because I love the game. I love hitting people. There’s a rush you get when you go out on the field, lay everything on the line and physically dominate the player across from you. This is a feeling I’m (for lack of a better word) addicted to, and I’m hard-pressed to find anywhere else. My teammates, friends and family can attest to this: When I go too long without physical contact I’m not a pleasant person to be around. This is why, every offseason, I train in kickboxing and wrestling in addition to my lifting, running and position-specific drill work. I’ve fallen in love with the sport of football and the physical contact associated with it.
What a Bro.
John Urschel officially has Bro King status in my book. Now I’m going to rack my far inferior brain to see what I still remember from algebra…
The distributive property is still a thing, right?