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The Science of NFL Football

September 8, 2010

Ten-part video series gives students new way to understand action on the field

In America, the autumn season means two things — back to school and back to football. To celebrate both events, NBC News’ educational arm, NBC Learn, is teaming up with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Football League (NFL) to release the “Science of NFL Football”- an informative 10-part video series that explores the science behind America’s most beloved sport. Narrated by NBC News’ Lester Holt and made especially for students and teachers as they head back to the classroom, these videos are aligned to lesson plans and national state education standards, and are available to the public cost-free on http://www.nbclearn.com/ and http://www.science360.gov/.

Launching with videos on “Vectors,” “Projectile Motion & Parabolas,” and “Nutrition, Hydration & Health,” this joint project between NBC Learn and NSF will debut a new video story every week for the next seven weeks. The “Science of NFL Football” expands the partnership started last year with the “Science of the Olympic Winter Games” — a similar video series centered on the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.

The collaboration between NBC Learn and NSF uses the universal appeal of football to drive an understanding of complicated scientific concepts. Students and teachers see how the principles of science enable players to perform actions such as throwing a spiraled pass, blocking an opponent and scoring a touchdown. Current players and retirees who participate in the video series include:

Current NFL Players:
Hines Ward, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
Antwaan Randle El, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
Scott Paxson, nose tackle, Pittsburgh Steelers
Patrick Cobbs, running back, Miami Dolphins
Yeremiah Bell, safety, Miami Dolphins
Jake Long, tackle, Miami Dolphins
Dan Carpenter, place kicker, Miami Dolphins
Lousaka Polite, running back, Miami Dolphins

Former NFL Players:
Orlando Pace, tackle
Hardy Nickerson, linebacker
Antonio Freeman, wide receiver
Joey Harrington, quarterback
Marshall Faulk, running back
Craig Hentrich, punter
Morten Andersen, place kicker
Ryan Kuehl, long snapper

For each piece of the series, an NSF-supported scientist explains the selected scientific principle, while NFL athletes describe how these principles apply to their respective positions. Series scientists supported by NSF are: University of Florida aerospace engineer Tony Schmitz, Clemson University mechanical engineer John Ziegert, University of Maryland physicist Sylvester “Jim” Gates and Bryn Mawr College mathematician Rhonda Hughes. Also participating in the series are two scientists from the University of Connecticut, kinesiologist Douglas Casa and nutritionist Nancy Rodriguez.

The science is broken down by capturing the athletes’ movements with a state-of-the-art, high-speed Phantom camera, which has the ability to capture movement at rates of up to 2,000 frames per second. These dynamic visuals allow for frame-by-frame illustrations of specific scientific principles such as Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, kinematics and projectile motion. The phantom video shoot was overseen by the NBC Olympics Production Group, which also provided research and technical support throughout the project. Other video episodes analyze the football science of the Pythagorean theorem, torque, center of mass and the unique shape of a football. Lessonopoly, Silicon Valley Education Foundation’s online repository of open educational resources, will provide lesson plans for teachers that accompany the videos created by NBC Learn.

“To paraphrase what President Kennedy once said — when we watch or play a football game, we feel like we’ve taken part in it,” said Ed Seidel, assistant director of NSF’s Mathematical and Physical Sciences directorate, the organization that funded the project.  “But in this series we hope to achieve more than that. We want students to feel they’ve taken part in understanding the physical principles underlying the action on the field.”

“NBC is extremely excited to offer this creative video series that combines science education and a sport that so many kids know and love,” said Steve Capus, president of NBC News. “The opportunity to partner on these projects with strong organizations like NSF and the NFL enables us to deliver high-quality content, cost-free to teachers to use in classrooms across the country.”

“As children go back to school and the country gets back to football, we are pleased to partner with NBC and NSF to bring our fans a new way to understand the game they love,” said Tracy Perlman, NFL vice president of entertainment marketing and promotions.

Former NFL Saints running back and two-time Pro Bowl selection, Deuce McAllister will be in New Orleans Thursday, September 9 to premiere the video series on NBC’s “TODAY” show. McAllister joined the Saints as a first-round draft pick out of Ole Miss in 2001 and became the franchise’s all-time leading rusher over the next eight seasons before retiring in January 2010. McAllister participated in the “Kinematics” video shoot, which analyzes the science of human motion through position, velocity and acceleration.

“It’s exciting for the NFL to be a part of this effort to bring science from the football field to the classroom,” said McAllister. “When we can energize our students to learn through physical fitness and sports, it’s win-win for everyone.”

Image Caption: The collaboration between NBC Learn and NSF uses the universal appeal of football to drive an understanding of complicated scientific concepts. In this episode, NFL athletes explore “Projectile Motion & Parabolas.” Credit: NBC Universal

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