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The 'Science' of sports and success

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Northern Virginia native John Brenkus hosts ESPN's popular Sport Science program.

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John Brenkus
Monday, January 24, 2011; 12:00 PM

John Brenkus has been tossed, towed, tackled and choked -- all in the name of science.

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The 39-year-old Vienna, Va., native is the host of "Sport Science," an ESPN show that's part of programming created by BASE Productions, which is also home to reality shows such as SyFy's "Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files," and A&E's "Crime 360."

Brenkus, who was featured in a Washington Post Magazine cover story, was online January 24 to take questions and comments.

The transcript is below.

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John Brenkus: Thanks for making Sport Science and our other BASE shows a success! Looking forward to answering some of your questions...

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Dallas, TX: What athletes that you've never analyzed would you like to have in the Sport Science lab?

John Brenkus: We've been really blessed to get some of the top athletes in the world into the lab. As always, we're going to aim high and get the top men and women...

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tomsing: The show might be successful, but it ain't science. Or at least, not the science it claims to be. The demonstrations seem to be intentionally designed to produce eye-popping numbers. Take the Vernon Davis dragging experiment. They put some slack in the strap to let him get some speed, and had Brenkus stand still. When the strap comes taut, the force produced is dependent mostly on Davis's mass and velocity, and the time it takes for the strap, harness, and Brenkus's arms to stretch. That's not how 360 lb linemen tackle. It's also not how they're dragged. So the experiment is irrelevant to whether Vernon Davis could drag the biggest defender into the endzone. It does, however, produce a big number. "Wow! 1100 lbs! Tiny guys flying through the air! I can't wait to see what they do next, I don't mind sitting through this commercial!" Which, of course, is the point.

John Brenkus: We actually had Vernon in the lab on the ESPN show. Check it out at espn.com and type in "Sport Science Vernon Davis". I think you'll like it...

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Los Angeles, CA: Are you in awe of the athletes you get to work with?

John Brenkus: Yes, very much so. Being an "average guy", elite athletes never cease to amaze me. But I do subscribe to the theory that great athletes are not just "born"...they're made through many years of practice. You can't just wake up and say "I'm the best in the world".

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Vienna, Va.: The article said you were raised right here in Virginia. How much time do you spend in the area these days?

John Brenkus: I don't get back nearly as much as I'd like...only once a year for the Holidays. I might pass through there a couple times during the year for a day or two, but the whole family only gets to do the trek once a year.

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Washington, D.C.: Seems like we're always hearing that kids need to study more science, and also work out more. Any plans to bring "Sport Science" to schools?

John Brenkus: "Sport Science" used to be on "Cable in the classroom" when it was on Fox Sports. ESPN is incorporating Sport Science in a bunch of different ways into their education initiatives...

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Los Angeles, CA: Out of all of the athletes that you have tested, who impressed you the most?

John Brenkus: There isn't just one. If an experiment makes the air, that means the athlete was impressive!

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Harrisburg, Pa.: I remember reading how people decades ago proved that a curveball really curves and is not an optical illusion. I also remember people trying to determine how hard Bob Feller threw a ball, and I believe someone estimated he threw as high as 104 MPH. Have you looked into some of these old time sports research methods, and if so, are you amused by them, or what do you think of them?

John Brenkus: A big part of our show is debunking myths, so yes, we like to go back and look at "conventional wisdom" and shed some new light. In the "cold weather" experiment we did, we debunked that your head is the "main source" of heat loss. For some reason, people think wearing a hat or helmet will keep you warm, but in reality only 10% of your body heat escapes through your head.

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Washington, D.C.: Any new shows on the horizon?

John Brenkus: BASE has a bunch of new shows on the horizon...as for Sport Science, we signed a multi-year deal, which means we'll keep the experiments coming!!!

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Alexandria, VA: Do people ask you for sport advice all the time?

John Brenkus: All the time...I actually enjoy rapping with folks about it. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to work with the best athletes and scientists in the industry, so there's quite a bit of knowledge and experience I've accumulated that is valuable.

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Studio City, CA: Did that bear almost catch you?

John Brenkus: not really...the bear didn't feel the need to catch me. Guess he thought there wasn't enough meat on this bone!

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Warrenton, VA: John

I have read some recent articles on testing being done on football helmets that have a soft outer shell rather than a metal outer shell. Anything in the works to test the impact of soft on soft rather than metal on metal

Joe

John Brenkus: We've done tons of experiments on concussions. The only problem to me is that I don't think we as a society are taking the issue seriously. There are just certain "assumed risks" in football...big impacts is one of them.

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Long Beach, CA: Did Drew Brees really go 10 for 10?

John Brenkus: indeed.

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Vienna, VA: If you could pick a favorite Sport Science segment, what would it be?

John Brenkus: Can't pick just one. It'd be like picking a favorite child!

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Colorado Springs, CO: What's it like to be choked out?

John Brenkus: Freaky. Your brain stops recording memories right before you pass out, so you never actually feel the "black out".

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Fairfax, VA: What is your biggest injury from being a human guinea pig?

John Brenkus: The Vernon Davis experiment was the worst I've gotten hurt. Took all the skin off my arms!

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Fort Belvoir VA: Do you present at schools? We are an elementary school with a STEM focus - this would be very cool for kids!

John Brenkus: Absolutely. Best way to get in touch with me is through my publicist: Ben Mann 310-300-4817

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Super Bowl: your prediction?

John Brenkus: I want a great game with lots of plays we can analyze!

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Seattle, WA: How do you come up with the ideas for experiments on the show? It amazes me what you come up with!

John Brenkus: It's really a collaboration between us, ESPN, the audience and the athletes. Ultimately, the experiments we choose are the ones that I've always wanted to know. If I'm interested in them, chances are the audience will want to see them too! We're on experiment 250 now!

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Vienna, Va: John, as a former cross country teammate I would like to offer congratulations to you on your success. Also is there any chance that your movie Crimson Lights will be back in production anytime soon ?

John Brenkus: Thanks for the kind words! Cross Country? Wow...that was a looooong time ago. "Crimson Lights" wrapped production almost 20 years ago!

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Norway: Big fan of Sports Science! Also a huge fan of MMA. Are there any MMA fighters who hasn't been in your lab who you would like to get there soon? In that case, who and why?

John Brenkus: I really want to get Edgar and Maynard in here for the rematch. That was one of the best fights ever!

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St Louis, MO: It was just announced that Jay Cutler tore his MCL. What is the typical recovery time for that sort of injury?

John Brenkus: Depends on the severity, like everything else.

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Schwenksville, PA: What is the greatest challenge you have had in setting up a test with a professional athlete

Chris Taormina - Schwenksville PA

John Brenkus: We had a "build it and they will come" mentality. We built the best lab, with the best experiments hoping to attract to best athletes. It's worked out great! Very blessed...

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Vienna, Va: John, do you have a special shrine in your office for the Cup you were wearing when you took on that 90 mph fastball ?

John Brenkus: :)

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Centreville, VA: Are you ever really afraid before some of the experiments when you know you're the one that's going to get hit?

John Brenkus: If there is one thing I've learned from the world's greatest athletes is that you need to stay calm. That being said, it's amazing how my heart rate sky rockets right before doing something challenging, like getting choked out! My heart rate raced to over 150...sitting still!

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Denver, CO: What sport were you best at growing up? What sport do you want to still try?

John Brenkus: I played football, baseball, basketball...ran track. Now, I do triathlons (Ironman distance). I've done 5...

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Houston, TX: There has been a lot of talk about concussions in the NFL this year - do you have any opinion on how the problem can be curbed?

John Brenkus: Not sure we're serious as a society about concussions.

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Pittsburgh, PA: I remember you tested Ben Roethlisberger a few years ago. What did you break down?

John Brenkus: we broke down 5 key components to what makes him so great. It's on youtube...

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Norway: What sports were you best at growing up? And do you have a favorite sport you just have to watch on TV?

John Brenkus: Grew up a football fan. Born and raised in the DC area, so I'm a lifelong Skins fan....and Caps fan...and Wizards fan! We need a championship from one of those teams. Been a looooong time!

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Fairfax, VA: What process do you go through to come up with your Sport Science show ideas?

John Brenkus: It's a big collaboration between ESPN, BASE, the athletes and the audience!

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Portland, OR: Will we see more Sport Science NBA segments after the Super Bowl?

John Brenkus: yep

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Sports Science video: Hi, Is it possible to get a DVD of your Sports Science segments to show my 8th grade physical science classes? I think many of the students would connect to this material much better than a textbook. Thanks!

John Brenkus: The original 26 episodes that were on Fox Sports are available on iTunes.

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John Brenkus: Thanks for all your support and making Sport Science such a success! More great experiments coming your way...for many years to come!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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