University of Nebraska-Lincoln physics and astronomy professor Tim Gay believes there are real problems in football today.
Some of these problems, he said during his lecture “Football: Its Physics and Future” Friday afternoon, are rooted in classic physics.
His talk began with a “little class in Football 101.” The first lesson focused on a clip of Kenny Bell leveling Wisconsin’s Devin Smith during the 3rd quarter of the 2012 Big Ten Championship.
“Notice that Bell and Smith have about the same weight, but Smith is the one that goes flying,” Gay said. “That’s what football is all about. This is a picture-perfect hit. Then Bell gets a 15-yard penalty.”
Gay spoke about some issues with modern football, and solutions, in the West Memorial Stadium Club. Gay’s lecture was this spring’s Nebraska Lecture, part of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture series.
Gay said some of the long-term impacts of rough football include: chronic pain, loss of motor skills, depression, suicide and lawsuits. Several former NFL players committed suicide in the last year, he said. Gay said NFL players are four times more likely than nonfootball players to die of Alzheimer’s Disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease – a neurological condition causing muscle weakness, disability and eventually death.
These negative health impacts can be attributed, in part, to heavier, faster football players, he said. Between 1920 and 2005, the average weight of an NFL lineman increased by 57 percent, and the average top speed of NFL lineman increased by 9.4 percent, Gay said.
“It’s kind of obvious that we’ve seen an increase in injury,” Gay said. “The amount of energy that goes into the game has doubled since the inception of rogue football.”
But Gay doesn’t think the sport could or should ever be banned.
“It doesn’t take a scientist to know that football is a very violent game, which is what I love about it,” Gay said.
He offered some solutions to make football safer for players: making mouth guards mandatory, having players sign waivers, conducting careful baseline neurological monitoring and aggressively testing for performance-enhancing drugs. Gay said players should begin wearing horse collars again because they reduce the motion of the brain during a hit.
Gay also suggested getting rid of greatest hits videos because “it glorifies the violence.”
Gay said the Nebraska Athletic Research Facility in East Stadium will play an important role in making football safer. One injury the facility will research is the concussion, as “we don’t yet know what a concussion is,” Gay said.
“The East Stadium research complex says volumes about the desire to partner between athletics and academics,” Gay said.
Prem Paul, vice chancellor for Research and Economic Development, emphasized the importance of athletics and academics working hand-in-hand.
“There’s no other place where this partnership exists,” Paul said.
Gay’s physics lessons are nothing new to Memorial Stadium. During the 1999-2000 seasons, his “Football Physics” lessons were shown on HuskerVision during games. The one-minute videos featured Husker football players demonstrating how basic physics concepts, such as Newton’s laws, apply to football.
The UNL Research Council, Office of the Chancellor, Office of Research & Economic Development and in partnership with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute sponsored Gay’s lecture.