America’s National Football league is turning to emerging technology to try to solve its ongoing challenges around player safety. The sport’s governing body says it has amassed huge amounts of data but wants to apply machine learning to gain better insights and predictive capabilities.
It is hoped the insights will inform new rules, safer equipment, and better injury rehabilitation methods. However, the data will not be available to independent researchers.
Last week the NFL announced a partnership with Amazon Web Services to provide the digital services including machine learning and digital twin applications. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
As the NFL has reached hyper professionalisation, data suggests player injuries have worsened, particularly head injuries sustained through high impact collisions. Several retired players have been diagnosed with or report symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease which can only be fully diagnosed post mortem.
As scrutiny has grown the NFL has responded with several rule changes and redesigning player helmets, both initiatives which it says has reduced concussions. However the league was also accused of failing to notify players of the links between concussions and brain injuries.
“All of our initiatives on the health and safety side started with the engineering roadmap around minimising head impact on field,” NFL executive vice president, Jeff Miller told Which-50 following the announcement.
Miller who is responsible for player health and safety, said the new technology is a new opportunity to minimise risk to players.
“I think the speed, the pace of the insights that are available as a result of this [technology] are going to continue towards that same goal, hopefully in a much more efficient, and in fact mature, faster supersized scale.”
Miller said the NFL has a responsibility to pass on the insights to lower levels of the game like high school and youth leagues. However, the data will not be available to external researchers initially.
“As we find those insights I think we’re going to be able to share those, we’re going to be able to share those within the sport and hopefully over time outside of the sport as well.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the AWS deal, which builds on an existing partnership for game statistics, alongside Andy Jassy, the public cloud provider’s CEO, during the AWS:re:invent conference in Las Vegas last week.
Goodell said the NFL had amassed huge amounts of data from sensors and video feeds but needed the AWS tools to better leverage it.
“When you take the combination of that the possibilities are enormous,” the NFL boss said. “We want to use the data to change the game. There are very few relationships we get involved with where the partner and the NFL can change the game.
“When we apply next-generation technology to advance player health and safety, everyone wins – from players to clubs to fans.”
AWS machine learning tools will be applied to the data to help build a “digital athlete”, a type of digital twin which can be used to simulate certain scenarios including impacts.
“The outcomes of our collaboration with AWS and what we will learn about the human body and how injuries happen could reach far beyond football,” he said.
The author traveled to AWS re:Invent as a guest of Amazon.