The Science of Football
Football: An Application of the Laws of Physics
Force: Why the Browns Can’t Protect Their Quarterback. Winning the battle of the offensive line is more than just who weighs the most. Transferring the maximum force from the ground to your opponent requires being low to the ground as well as keeping your legs and elbows bent at 90 degrees. Trace a line from the back foot of each player (trajectory of the force coming from the ground) and see if their legs are aligned with their arms. From this argument the player on the left is going to win this shoving match.
Torque: What Happens When Dancing with the Stars Partners are Mismatched. In the open field hitting a football opponent head on will not be as effective as hitting them slightly off center. The force applied, mass times acceleration, will spin that opponent around their axis of rotation leaving them unable to counterbalance the ferocious amount of torque delivered to them. Torque can also be seen when dancers are not in good balance and off center forces push the dancers into an awkward direction.
New Advances in Helmets
In 2010, 160 NFL players suffered concussions, which doctors have linked to depression, early onset of Alzheimer’s and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease. The rate of concussions among high-school and college players is probably much higher. New advances use “smart helmets” and mouth guards outfitted with accelerometers and radio-frequency identification to measure the location and direction of hits experienced during a game or practice. Each helmet is equipped with six sensors around the crown of the helmet which feel the G-forces of hits that the player sustains to the head. If the hit is hard enough, say 100 Gs (a severe car crash is about 120 Gs) to cause a concussion, an alert is sent to a transmitter on the back of the helmet, which then sends a message to the sideline computer. Each helmet costs about $1,000. In a counter-intuitive finding, scientists report that the foam used in helmets and other body armor indeed absorbs damage when compressed slowly, but can cause as much injury as a hard object when hit at high speeds.
On the medical side, there is hope for advanced brain-imaging techniques, experimental blood or spinal fluid tests, and even a genetic marker that would enable doctors to identify chronic traumatic encephalopathy (the same as punch-drunk syndrome, but not limited to boxers) early on. At the moment, the definitive mark of the disease—clumps of abnormal tau protein in the brain—can be seen only when the brain is sliced, stained, and studied under a microscope. It’s the accumulation of impact after impact that does real damage. The brain shakes, and little splits called microhemorrhages can form. The splits also allow fluid in, which increases the likelihood of further concussions.
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Carroll, L. and Davis Rosner (2011) “The concussion crisis: anatomy of a silent epidemic.” New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.