Why I’m using football stats to study Washington’s job market

I am a statologist who has studied sports statistics for at least the past 15 years. I have more or less spent my entire career studying how football leads to better life outcomes for its players — an area that continues to fascinate me.

I’ve long studied the impact of athletic ability and social capital (I’m not sure there’s a difference in the sense I mean) on life outcome. Today’s column is our newest effort to study those very same factors — specifically, to measure the effects they have on Washington, D.C.’s job market. I can’t afford to do it, though. With today’s newspaper alone, I can’t write more than 700 words, and there are a few readership bonuses that might bring me closer to that goal.

And anyway, the conclusion — which is that football-induced good fortune certainly helps, but it certainly doesn’t last forever — is so obvious, I don’t need to tell anyone how common it is. There’s no point in making a walloping conceptual argument here, only to debunk it in a few paragraphs. Because a good rule of thumb is that even in a seemingly perfect labor market, some people are just born out of shape. Even somebody with perfect athletic ability can’t survive an industry dominated by machine owners who were born fit. They’re a different breed.

All I want to do is start this conversation. I want to document the statistical benefits that come with a “wonderful life.” I want to look at the levels of athleticism that obtain and whether those levels are climbing or falling. And, I want to encourage an ongoing debate among my fellow statians about these specific factors.

I don’t want to solely blame the NFL players for this. There are fundamental differences in the way these sports are run and managed, but I can’t tell you that the NFL’s demands on its players will result in better lives. The NFL is just the biggest of the large. Let’s look at other factors instead.

What would happen if we guaranteed that getting lucky would be enough to ensure decent outcomes after you graduated college? Is that realistic? I’d say not, but there’s just no clear way to tell. So I’m not going to try to predict the future — but I’m going to look at how this applies in general, and then also in D.C.

If you have any career advice for this column, please send them my way in the comments below.


Later today: See the deeper issues underlying this conversation.

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