INVERSE FUNCTIONS - Sports Illustrated Vault | SI.com
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INVERSE FUNCTIONS

A FORMER NFL LINEMAN WRITES OF BALANCING HIS TWIN PASSIONS: CRUNCHING NUMBERS AND LEVELING LINEBACKERS
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MIND AND MATTER: A LIFE IN MATH AND FOOTBALL

By John Urschel and Louisa Thomas, out now

When it comes to athlete biographies, numbers are usually limited to scores and stats. But former Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel's career totals—13 starts over three seasons before his July 2017 retirement—aren't the focus of his memoir, co-written with his partner, New Yorker contributor Louisa Thomas. That's because Urschel is best known for pursuing a Ph.D. in mathematics at MIT while he was playing in the NFL. So in telling his life story he also explains fifth-order polynomials and the effect of eigenspaces on matrices, and at one point he declares that an equation's "intricate elegance and difficulty ... spoke to me."

Mind and Matter isn't all theorems and proofs. Urschel compellingly recounts how football gave him a sense of belonging as a child in Buffalo before describing his time at Penn State, which coincided with the Jerry Sandusky scandal. But the book is at its best when Urschel discusses juggling identities. "So often, people want to divide the world in two," he writes. "Why can't something (or someone) be both?"