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By Andrew Beaton
Imagine an NFL player who receives a crushing blow to the head. Far away, a computer detects a trend showing that other players have suffered injuries on similar plays. That information could rewrite rulebooks to eliminate the play in question, changing the way football is played.
That's the idea behind a new deal between the NFL and Amazon Web Services, a subsidiary of Amazon.com Inc., that aims to leverage the tech giant's data operations -- using the league's growing array of data sets -- into a new approach to solving football's thorniest and most troubling long-term issue.
Over the last decade, participation in youth and high-school football has declined as more has become known about the injury risks inherent to the sport. The NFL's handling of those problems has been at the forefront of the discussion, casting a dark light on America's most popular sport. A 2017 settlement between the league and retired players established an uncapped fund, potentially valued at $1 billion, to compensate them for ailments such as CTE, ALS, Parkinson's and other neurocognitive impairments.
The NFL, in recent years, has overhauled the league's concussion protocol and implemented stricter standards for helmets to improve the game's safety. The league has also tweaked the rulebook to whittle down some of the game's most dangerous plays, such as wedge blocks on kickoffs.
But the league's previous attempts to identify these trends have been laborious and antiquated. Staffers trawled through the film of every game to manually identify the plays that produced an abnormal injury risk, jotting down every helmet impact in every game without a mechanized or modern process.
Now the partners are trying to change the league's approach to these problems by utilizing the same influx of data that has provided new measurements about the game on the field. AWS already works with the NFL on its "Next Gen" stats, which use chips embedded in every player's jersey to provide advanced player-tracking metrics. The league hopes artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies can more successfully parse through this data to understand football's most dangerous situations.
"We'll be able to model NFL players and be able to understand their behaviors and potentially predict injuries in ways we can't now," said Jeff Miller, the NFL's executive vice president of health and safety.
The parties say they will use the data to gain a newfound understanding of factors that cause injuries. That could include the type of route a wide receiver runs or the types of blocks that linemen execute. It could also bring in other factors, such as the variety of cleats players wear and the surface the game is played on. And, they hope, the data culled from this new project can be combined with game film to understand football's risks like never before.
"It's a really unique opportunity in the sense of having so much data available," said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's chief medical officer.
Write to Andrew Beaton at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 05, 2019 15:39 ET (20:39 GMT)
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