Taking Science to Where the Peeps Are: NFL Football!

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | September 15, 2010 1:12 pm

This is a guest post by Darlene Cavalier, a writer and senior adviser at Discover Magazine. Darlene holds a Masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and is a former Philadelphia 76ers cheerleader. She founded ScienceCheerleader.com and cofounded ScienceForCitizens.net to make it possible for lay people to contribute to science.

Lots of chatter recently here and here among science bloggers debating and distilling the merits of various forms of science communication. Novel, broad approaches to reach new audiences were discussed. I hinted at one such approach in the thread and now I’d like to share the details.

I’ve been working with the National Science Foundation, NBC and the National Football League on The Science of NFL Football, a video series featuring current and former NFL stars and scientists to demonstrate and explain the multiple scientific concepts, core to the game of football.

The football action is broken down using a Phantom camera, which captures the players’ movement at rates of up to 2,000 frames per second. Players provide insights and scientists give blow-by-blow accounts of the 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.

Steve Capus, President of NBC News said, “NBC is extremely excited to offer this creative video series that combines science education and a sport that so many kids know and love.”

That’s right. We’re going to where the adults and kids are. Or, as NYTimes reporter Joanne Gerstner put it in this piece, “It’s almost like telling kids their favorite food was entirely made of really healthy vegetables.” In this same Times piece, Soraya Gage, executive producer of NBC Learn adds “… Getting the athletes to talk about what they do hooks the kids and the students. And when it’s coming from an idol, a sporting hero, they sit up and listen.”

A little back story. Originally pitched this as a series featuring the many procheerleaders who are scientists and engineers. Why? These women are remarkable. They are the real deal and they are passionate about inspiring young women to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. And, obviously, they are provocative (i.e. attention grabbers). As scientists/engineers AND procheerleaders, they epitomize opposing stereotypes. Turns out, they’re also proving to be influential role models and mentors to middle school girls, in particular. Before you snicker or roll your eyes, keep in mind that 1.4 million gals are cheerleaders and they look up to these women. You can bet plenty of these young science-minded cheerleaders are feeling torn between identities. Follow an interest in science? Or be jocks or cheerleaders? Science Cheerleaders say, “both.”

I chose to emphasize these so-called Science Cheerleaders because they speak from personal experience and they all have a good story to tell…and I can empathize with them. For years, while working at Discover Magazine, I kept secret my identity as a 76ers cheerleader for fear of being dissed. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. In fact, it’s partly due to my past cheerleading relationships that this NFL, NBC, NSF partnership came to be! As the NFL video segments are released on ScienceCheerleader.com (about once a week), a procheerleader-turned-scientist or engineer will introduce the segment and we’ll link to an online interview we did with her. I think you’ll enjoy them and it’s one way of broadening distribution among young women. If Science Cheerleaders aren’t your thing, have no fear. The segments will be aired without the cheerleader-tie ins on NBC, NBCLearn.com, and NSF360.gov

Without further ado, here’s the official announcement of the Science of NFL Football series. Hope you and your fellow football fans enjoy learning about the science and engineering of NFL football. (Oh, and that Science Cheerleader series pitch? Just wait.)

Al Roker, Lester Holt, and Deuce McAllister kick off the Science of NFL Football on this Today Show clip. The 10-part video series starring past and present NFL stars was produced in partnership with the NFL, NBC, and the National Science Foundation. As the segments are released each week, I’ll pop back here to The Intersection and provide a brief description and link to the new segment.
Visit NSF360.gov and NBC Learn for more information and to download supplemental lesson plans available free to educators.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Announcements, Guest Posts

Comments (11)

Links to this Post

  1. Quick Links | A Blog Around The Clock | September 16, 2010
  1. Interesting article and great title. :)

  2. Jessica

    Darlene this is awesome! In addition to being a huge science groupie, I’m a dedicated NFL fangirl (go Vikes!!). It’s not often that these two interests mix – I can’t wait to watch! I’m glad you’re incorporating the cheerleader interviews too.

  3. Joe

    WHY WHY WHY are these not embeddable? I saw these last week and have been trying to spread them to my Tumblr readers. They would eat this up, and they are exactly the kind of young people being targeted by this messaging.

  4. BD

    Great job on getting this going, Darlene! I first started thinking about the connections between football and science when I took a trigonometry class and had to deal with the vectors of particle collisions. Nice to see this put into practice. Is there any chance of getting the videos on YouTube? That would address Joe’s embedding question.

    I’m looking forward to seeing more of the NFL science videos and the science cheerleaders!

    Gooooo, Dar!


  5. Thanks, Jessica!
    Joe: it has something to do w/NFL, NBC copyright issues but let me see if things have changed on this. I’ll be right back.

  6. JT Lewis

    Wow, I haven’t seen anything that so effectively combines my too favorite things (science! football!) since I sat in on a class on the physics of roller coasters. Nicely done. Keep them coming!

  7. Joe

    Heck, put ’em on Hulu. Doesn’t NBC own that? I don’t care how they get there! :)

    Great job by all involved, this is a fantastic series and after the winter olympics I hoped there would be more. Wish granted

  8. Jasmine

    These videos are awesome. I was able to find Free lesson plans that go with the videos at http://www.lessonopoly.org/nfl . you should check them out I am definitely going to put this into use.

  9. This is an excellent example of why I love being a scientist! I enjoy understanding how things work- from why the sky is blue on a great football Sunday to how Gatorade was engineered to help the athlete perform better on the field! This series promises to further our appreciation of the machinations behind the scenes of one of Nation’s greatest past-times, football! I tell my students that there are many things we take for granted and don’t really understand nor think about that is required for the world around us to operate the way it does? Why does the field goal kicker want a 45 degree initial arc in his kick to make that 50+ yard field goal? Or how can we see the first down markers on the TV screen, but not on the actual field itself (more science/engineering there!). It’s simple science that helps us understand how such things work. A good player may not explicitly understand why he does something, but he does it instinctively because it works- knowledge from experience. These series of videos will impart some of that knowledge to us “armchair quarterbacks” who don’t ever make it to the football stadium itself!

    My only other hope is that girls and women will also benefit from these videos because as much if not all of the science presented will be applicable to the sport of their choice- whether it be football, soccer, etc… Science provides a universal understanding independent of who the beneficiary is!

    Gooo Science!


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.


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