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Study identifies surprising culprit behind the poor performance of some NFL teams: ‘The evidence is piling up’

“It doesn’t mean that a high-performing quarterback is going to all of a sudden be awful because he’s playing in a certain city.”

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The amount of air pollution in an athlete’s city has a measurable effect on their performance, according to a new study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Researchers from two Louisiana universities recently collected data on two high-level team sports: Major League Baseball (MLB) and the NFL. They then compared those stats to the air quality index for each team’s home city. 

Their analysis, published in January, shows that baseball teams commit an extra 0.000993 errors per game for every additional air quality index point, while quarterbacks can expect a 0.23-point dip in their QB rating, an all-around stat for measuring on-field performance. 

This study is the latest in a series of recent papers examining the effects of air quality on athletics. Another study published this year found that air pollution impacts running speed, while one conducted in 2017 linked air quality to the number of passes that soccer players made. 

In this case, researchers accounted for other factors that might affect performance, like the team’s budget. 

Francis Pope, a University of Birmingham professor of atmospheric studies, told The Daily Beast that this data is about more than just the heart and lungs — pollution also affects the brain. Unlike a sport like track in which the athlete is constantly moving, baseball and football are played in short bursts, so errors can easily occur due to failures in judgment. 

“Certainly the evidence is piling up,” he told the outlet, “that pollution does appear to have an effect on the cognitive impacts of people, both in the short term and, via increased rates of diseases like Alzheimer’s, the long term.” 

Study co-author Jeremy Foreman stressed to the Daily Beast that air quality isn’t the only factor that can affect an athlete’s performance. 

“It doesn’t mean that a high-performing quarterback is going to all of a sudden be awful because he’s playing in a certain city,” he said. “But how much better could you be if there was better air?”

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