John Urschel Does Math

My main line of research is in algebraic graph theory. In particular I am interested in the eigenvalue spectra of Laplacians on graphs. Those don't often get mentioned over at HuffPo, so I raised an eyebrow when I saw this:

A mathematician by the name of John Urschel recently published a complex paper in the Journal of Computational Mathematics entitled, “A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fielder Vector of Graph Laplacians.”

Mr. Urschel's paper is newsworthy because of this:

A mathematician publishing a math paper wouldn't normally be news, except that John Urschel the mathematician is the same person as John Urschel of the Baltimore Ravens.

The 6-foot-3, 308-pound offensive guard absolutely loves math, and he’s all the proof you need next time someone says something along the lines of “all jocks are idiots.”

Pretty good! But does this mean I have to read his paper?

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No. It means you should do more sports. ;-)

Too bad his chosen sport will likely damage his brain from concussions.

If the paper is noteworthy in terms of the mathematics presented, sure you should read his paper. His status as a football player should have no bearing on the worth of his paper. (BTW, I am certainly not qualified to judge the worthiness of anyone's mathematical work, so if you believe that the paper is not worthy of your interest, then I have no reason to believe otherwise. I just am suggesting you judge the paper on its own merits, not on who the author is.)

I think Jason is having a chuckle with his final comment and is not serious.

My two graph theory courses are far in the past, but I did forward this to a couple graph theorists I know. They were impressed.
I did take note of his expressed concern about the toll his job might take on his mental abilities over the long haul. I wonder whether that will influence how long he chooses to play.

On a more amusing note: one headline for the story about his article was this:
Another Professional Football Player Says Something Incomprehensible to Most People

The paper is available on arxiv, and I gave it a quick skim. It's a computational technique for finding an eigenvalue/eigenvector pair for matrices associated with graphs, with extensive proof of convergence, and numerical results showing it is superior to the previous benchmark. If you are interested in computational graph theory or numerical linear algebra, then worth glancing at!

By Stephen Lucas (not verified) on 24 Mar 2015 #permalink

Back in the day (my day) there was an offensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys - I think it was in the Roger Staubach era - who had a Phd in Physics. Also there was a lineman for the Cincinnati Bengals who was a highly-rated classic pianist. The offensive line selects for hard, dedicated workers (it's not a glamour position) who don't have great athletic skill/coordination (if they did they'd play defense), but are huge.

Except for centers, who have to get rid of the ball before they can protect themselves, offensive linemen are more apt to suffer from knee and shoulder problems than concussions. At the line of scrimmage they don't receive a lot of high-speed collisions and they don't usually play on special teams (punts and kickoffs).

That's all off-the-top-of-the-head stuff from watching Giants games since 1960. In the first game I ever saw, Giants safety Jimmy Patton dove through the air, parallel to the ground, to just get a fingertip on a pass and deflect the ball away from a waiting receiver. I had never seen an athlete do that before. (Diving plays happen sometimes in baseball too, but very rarely.) I just wish there was one rule change: that defenders had to tackle ball-carriers (grab them with their arms) rather than just running into them as hard as they can.

Reminds me of the time (many years ago) I saw a professional wrestler in suit, tie, and briefcase going through the White House security to attend a meeting. The guy was a lawyer and a very sharp one at that; evidently, dressing up in spandex and pile driving evildoers in the ring was his secondary income.

Dear Jason,

Of course you should scan his paper, and give us a first impression. Isn't that what a math prof should do?

By Warren Johnson (not verified) on 25 Mar 2015 #permalink

QB Frank Ryan is the only NFL player ever to earn (from Rice) a PhD in Math, unless Urschel has recently earned his. Ryan had a fine 13-year pro football career, with three Pro Bowl selections and one championship ring. He threw three TD passes for the Cleveland Browns in an upset over the Baltimore Colts in the 1964 title game.

By Peter Fessel (not verified) on 30 Mar 2015 #permalink