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theory in 2009, after watching him testify before Congress about head injuries in the NFL. The team doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1988 to 1998, Bailes was among those who raised the alarm about chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease that wreaks havoc on the lives of former players. The two men met and decided to run some tests on animals. “We went to Michaels arts & crafts and made a collar that would fit a rat,” Bailes recalls.
A standard test in brain damage research involves dropping brass weights on the heads of anesthetized rats, then inspecting their brains for tearing in the connections between nerve cells. Bailes told Smith that previous experiments found nothing reduced the damage in rodents’ brains by even 1 percent. “No matter what we put between that ball that comes out of the sky and that rat’s skull—we’ve put rubber, we’ve put steel, Kevlar—nothing changes,” says Smith, quoting Bailes.
Subsequent tests showed that rats with the jugular-constricting bands had 80 percent less damage than those without. Three years ago, Smith and Bailes enlisted Dr. Gregory Myer at the Human Performance Laboratory at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to test the device on humans. He recruited about 60 high school football players, gave half of them collars, and measured changes in their brains over the course of a season. The results will be detailed in a paper that Myer plans to submit for publication early next year.
Chris Nowinski, executive director of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, says, “It will also be extremely hard to prove this device works, as there will be a massive placebo effect.” Says the former pro wrestler: “Impressionable high school athletes, when given this collar and told it prevents concussions, will report fewer concussions.”
Myer’s preliminary data were apparently strong enough to interest Performance Sports Group, which has committed $7 million. CEO Davis is so confident of the band’s effectiveness that he’s having his son wear it during hockey games. Ira Boudway
③ The added blood leaves less space for the brain to move during a collision, reducing the possibility of a concussion.
It sounds uncomfortable, but Bailes compares it to wearing a tie. The collar mimics the effect of the woodpecker’s tongue, which is supported by bones that wrap around its jugular. This protects the bird’s brain as it
hammers a tree. The bottom line A device worn on the neck may help prevent concussions by reducing the jiggle room between the cranium and the brain.