Facial Symmetry and the NFL Draft

Posted on May 1, 2009 by


Last September I published a short article in Play Magazine (from the New York Times) detailing how the physical attractiveness of a quarterback was related to his pay.  Research I conducted – with Jennifer VanGilder and Rob Simmons – suggested that the symmetry of a quarterback’s face (which is a measure of attractiveness) has a statistically significant link to a quarterback’s compensation.

Darren Rovell – of CNBC and Sports Biz with Darren Rovellfound the story to be interesting and asked for a follow-up after this past draft.  Specifically, Rovell asked us to look at the facial symmetry of the first 20 players selected in the 2009 NFL draft.  Earlier today our results were posted by Darren at Sports Biz.  Here is what he reported:

Last year, I was fascinated with the study done by a group of economists that revealed that better looking quarterbacks made more money. Using facial symmetry to objectify looks, the group revealed that players who looked better made about $300,000 more. When I asked my readers if better looking players should get paid more, 34 percent actually said they should.

With that in mind I sent an e-mail to these economists, David Berri at Southern Utah and Jennifer VanGilder of Ursinus College. I provided them with headshots of the top 20 draft picks from this weekend and asked if they noticed any patterns based on looks.

In general, they said that there was no statistically significant link between draft positions and facial attractiveness, though they did note quarterbacks are better looking than the average sample of players. The economists say it’s possible this might be the case because how children look could influence who plays quarterback at an early age.

And, according to the facial symmetry program, the economists say that the Jets can at least call Mark Sanchez, the best looking quarterback drafted in the first round last Saturday.

Let me close with just a little bit more information.  It’s true that Sanchez had the highest facial symmetry.  Relative to the quarterbacks we have looked at before, Sanchez was above average (although not all that close to the top).  Matthew Stafford and Josh Freeman were closer to average for a quarterback, although both were above average when we consider the first twenty players taken in the draft. 

Our original study only focused on quarterbacks, so we have not investigated whether facial symmetry plays a role in the evaluation of other positions.  If it did play a role, Brian Cushing can expect additional money in the future.  Yes, Cushing had the highest level of facial symmetry in this sample. 

– DJ

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