Could pro sports lead us to wellness?

Comment From Bill
St. Louis is being hindered in the stretch drive by some kind of GI bug passing through (so to speak) the team. Reports have as many as 15 guys down with it at once. That seems a lot, but given the way a baseball clubhouse works, my question is why don’t we see more of that? Answering that baseball players are fanatically interested in sanitation and hygiene ain’t gonna cut it, I don’t think…

12:10
Dave Cameron: They have access to a lot of drugs.

–comment from a chat at Fangraphs, September 24, 2014

So this comment caught my eye. Ever since I began following sites like BaseballProspectus.com and Fangraphs.com, and reading things like Moneyball, I’ve found myself thinking about efficiency and unappreciated or unexplored resources in different situations.

I realize this was a throwaway line in a baseball chat. But it piqued my interest because it seems to point out something that’s maybe underappreciated and understudied about how sports teams go about their business–specifically, the kinds of things they do to keep their athletes healthy.

My question is, does this represent a potential source of “Found Research” data that could help the rest of us reach wellness? Continue reading

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Drug development and the NFL draft

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

The NFL draft is happening as I am writing this post. And of the many draft-related pieces I’ve read in the past few days, one from Vox.com particularly stood out. The article, by Joseph Stromberg, describes research by Cade Massey and Richard Thaler (here and here) about the skewed and irrational choices often made by teams during trades of draft picks. In essence, teams are likely to pursue a strategy in trading up that suggests they believe they have a much greater ability to forecast the future performance of a given player than is actually the case. Put another way, rather than following a strategy of diversified risk, teams commit to a specific player that they feel they need to get, rather than simply seeing who’s available when they are scheduled to pick and choosing the best player on their draft board.

Historical analysis shows that the difference between various players drafted at the same position is often negligible; on top of that teams who aggressively trade down and gather more picks in the lower rounds generally do better in terms of the value they receive for the money they spend in salaries. One might argue this is an artifact in part of the NFL Rookie salary structure, but even without that, players taken in later rounds will always command smaller salaries. Getting similar value for less money is generally a good thing.

If you’ve read posts from this blog before you know where I’m going. Drafting NFL rookies sounds a lot like developing drugs. Continue reading

What do labrador retrievers and NFL wide receivers have in common?

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

A.  They’re both being studied via mobile tech to create their ethograms.

What’s an ethogram?  I had no idea until I saw this PLOSone paper on using inertial sensors such as accelerometers and gyroscopes to measure the movements and behaviors of dogs, so as to create an ethogram, or collection of behaviors and actions, characteristic of labrador retrievers and Belgian Malinois.  For scientists studying the behavior and action patterns of different species, building an ethogram is essential to studies of animal behavior.  Without a standardized, objective catalog of behaviors, it can be easy for the perspectives of the observer to get in the way.  And it can make comparisons of data among different researchers (or coaches, as we’ll discuss in a bit) difficult.

And just as I was mulling over how that study shows the power of technology for behavioral research, the latest issue of Sports Illustrated came in the mail and I read a short, fascinating article by Tim Newcomb about how eight NFL teams have signed up with the company Catapult to integrate small GPS sensors into practice and game uniforms. This data allows a more accurate, granular and comprehensive view of how different receivers, for example, play the game.  Basically, building the receiver ethogram (using the term rather loosely). Sadly, this article is currently only in the print issue and not online that I can find.  But it’s at newsstands now.  You can go pick one up.  I’ll wait.

So let me delve into each of these articles a little more.

Continue reading

What $85 million could get the NFL: thinking about the NFL concussion settlement

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

Yesterday the NFL and the NFL Players Association reached a settlement concerning compensation for concussions and other football-related injuries.  The impending lawsuit was brought by former NFL players who claimed, among other things, that the NFL downplayed the risk of concussions despite having knowledge of their effects and also did not do all it could to help former players.

The total amount earmarked for the settlement is reported to be $765 million dollars, with the vast majority ($675 million) in a fund to support former players and families in dealing with the aftermath of concussions.  Commentators have noted that this appears to be a great victory for the NFL.  First, the amount of money is less than many expected even with a settlement.  Second, the NFL did not have to go through discovery, which would have laid open exactly what the NFL did know about concussions and possible side effects, as well as potentially other damaging information that, once released in court, could never be private again.

It seems likely that those who were bringing forward the suit settled because they were motivated to help the most needy members of their group.  Many former NFL players are suffering dementia and lingering aftereffects from their playing days.  Some families of deceased players will also benefit.  The former player pool can’t really afford to wait for the long protracted time a trial and subsequent appeals would take since in the interim many would fall into poverty and even poorer health; some could also die. Continue reading