Could a Robot Save American Football?

(upbeat music) – I love the sport of football. I love my players more. When I played, getting dinged, getting your bell rung, you never thought twice about it. Is the game at risk? I think it certainly is. – [Quarterback] Hike! Either we change the
way we coach the game, or we won’t have a game to coach. (upbeat music) Walked in a staff meeting and I said, “You know fellas, we’re not
gonna tackle this spring.” So guys say, “Yeah okay,
what’s the punchline?” I said, “No I’m serious,
we’re not tackling.” But, we’re probably the most
effective tackling team, I would say, in the country. Why? We practice it more than
anybody in the country. We just don’t do it against people. (upbeat music) (players yelling) Be ready as the off-pulley. If you attack this thing,
get the inside hand up. (whistle blows) – [Narrator] Football
runs deep in America. But right now, the game
is at a crossroads. – [Anchor] The settlement
provides as much as five million dollars per player, for serious medical conditions associated with repeated head trauma. – [Anchor] Diagnosed with
a brain disease, CTE. – [Reporter] The league’s
19,000 former players, will all be eligible for a medical exam. – [Narrator] Recent
attention on concussions and the long term health risks created by repeated hits to the head, have put America’s game on its back foot. Youth participation continues to fall, this year reaching its
lowest levels since 2000. Dartmouth Head Football
Coach, Buddy Teevens, is trying to reverse this
trend, and keep players safe. And he may be leading a
revolution in the process. – Man, if you cut through,
all good stuff, yeah. – Yeah, it’s a second card for you. We have a spring scrimmage, and two of my guys go head to head. (dramatic music) Starting runningback, starting
linebacker, both concussed. And I thought, this is nuts. (upbeat music) So I did a little bit of research, and decided that we were
not gonna tackle any longer. My players were a little bit backed up. “What do you mean we’re not tackling?” (whistle blows) (helmets crash) – [Narrator] Most brain damage in football isn’t usually suffered via
one devastating in-game blow, but from repeated knocks, the onslaught of sub-concussive hits, suffered again and again in practice. (crowd shouting) – Kieth again, man. Guys come here, they may have 4,000-10,000
fewer sub-concussive hits during the course of their
career here at Dartmouth, than they would at another
Division One program. – [Quarterback] Hike! – [Narrator] But Teevens
faced a fundamental question: how could you really sufficiently
mimic in-game scenarios under a coaching philosophy
that doesn’t allow tackling? – When I eliminated the live tackling, one of the frustrations
was I didn’t have anything that simulated a moving target. And we tried everything,
guys pulling bags, a golf cart and a blocking dummy. And nothing worked. (upbeat music) One of my classmates, and a good friend, John Currier, works in the
Thayer School of Engineering. – We were looking out the
window of his office suite down on the field, one day, and he said, “it would
be nice if we could make “one of those big tackle bags move.” And I said, “Buddy, I
think we could do that.” – [Narrator] The result was this, a padded robot called the
MVP, or mobile virtual player. (upbeat music) – There’s tension growing between the tradition of high contact and science that’s showing that we need to pay more attention to
player health and safety. So, by being at the confluence
of those two considerations, we’re able to apply technology, and allow teams to train just
as effectively as they need to to perform well on a Saturday, without subjecting their
players to the number of hits and sub-concussive contact. (dramatic music) We got a prototype working. And as soon as we had something
that worked on the field, it took off. (upbeat music) – [Coach] Go get it! (upbeat music) – Guys are healthier, they feel better, they’re not all banged up. (upbeat music) – You know, just how your
body feels on game day, it’s just a lot different, especially coming from high school. By game day, you were
pretty much broken down. Everything was hurting. Versus here, it preserves your body a lot. – [Coach] Go deep! (body slams into pad) Nice! – We approach everything
with an open mind. I think what really spoke
was the success that it had. – [Narrator] Indeed,
Dartmouth’s radical approach has paid off. In year one, post-tackling, Teevens says the team’s
overall injury rate fell 80%. By year two, the concussion
rate had plummeted 58%. And the Big Green’s football,
it was pretty good too. Missed tackles were cut in half. And since 2014, Dartmouth
has won, an Ivy League Best, 78% of its games. And this year, Conference Championship. (players shouting) Other big college programs,
and even NFL teams, are using the MVP. But starting at a few
thousand dollars each, teams at every level will have to decide what they’re willing to invest in the long term health of their athletes. (upbeat music) Coach Teevens is always looking for the next revolution in the game, with a constant focus on player safety. – Trying to figure out what
is, in fact, a concussion. Respiratory tests, auditory tests, blood drawing, and whatnot. And that’s really the push that I make, and we make as a staff, is how can we keep our guys even safer. (dramatic music) – A lot of the athletes
here are going to go on and have long careers, long
lives after they retire from the sport that they’re playing. So, from that standpoint, it’s really important to protect
the health of your brain, protect the health of your body, so that you can go on and live a long and healthy, fulfilling life. – I think about the philosophy of football and changing the game. It’s a wonderful game. And I think that’s a great
way to train student athletes for a productive life. (upbeat music) I’m involved with a
lot of different sports over the course of time. It’s something special about it. And I’d hate to see it go away. – Hey guys, thanks for watching. We had an awesome time
here with Coach Teevens and the Dartmouth football team. For more great stories like this, subscribe to Freethink.

6 thoughts on “Could a Robot Save American Football?

  1. I'm impressed with the success the team had achieved since adopting this approach. I'm not a fan of football or anything but I would've expected the use of linear "predictable" robots to cause a reduction in tackle reaction time (bc robots currently can't juke and roll and fade and all that stuff that a really effective runner can do) but if they've won a championship then it sounds like it's worth it (of course it's also great their injuries are reduced but the ultimate goal is to outclass your opponent and I wonder if robots are the best tool for reaching that level).

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