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October 30, 2023

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AI helping to make American football safer for players by better understanding injuries

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been employed to help make American football safer for players by better understanding injuries.

The NFL has implemented The Digital Athlete AI tool to analyse thousands of data points from every play and hit.

The three-dimensional rendering of a player runs a play at every angle and in any condition, millions of times, and shows the results – so those in charge of athlete health can better guide player safety in practice and on game day.

“A potential to revolutionise” health and safety

Credit: Unsplash by Patrick Ogilvie

Jennifer Langton, vice president of health and safety innovation for the NFL, said many of the changes over the last few years – including not allowing players to initiate hits with their helmets, trip, or launch at another player – have been made because of the data gathered by the Digital Athlete.

She said: “When you think about it, a healthy roster is a healthy team. And in the longevity of a season, you need a healthy roster.

“There is a potential to revolutionise not just health and safety in the NFL, but also to address injury prevention and detection.”

The Digital Athlete means the effects of play can be gathered in a matter of minutes instead of days.

The technology was created with Amazon Web Services and began development in 2019.

Concussions down by 25%

Credit: Unsplash by Ben Hershey

Last year the NFL piloted it with four teams during the season – and this year it’s been available for the entire league to use.

According to the NFL, concussions are down 25% since 2018.

Ben Peterson is vice president of health and performance for the San Francisco 49ers.
He watches each game from the comfort of a chair, crunching numbers collected from the field of play. He then uses the data to guide training and rehab for players at the club.

Further reading: Artificial Intelligence? It’s already happening

And he said this tool has had a great impact on the game and his role in particular.

“Most people would think if you interact with a lot of data, it kind of isolates you, I think it’s the opposite because it gives you a lot of things to talk about,” he said.

“The Digital Athlete has really helped with trying to do the analysis, you spend less time doing that and you can spend way more time with the player.

“Or you can spend way more time talking to other people on the staff, communicating with the coaching staff.

“I definitely think it’s good for the game. I think more information is good. You just have to understand how to use it and action it.”

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