The biggest problem with football, beyond a Super Bowl where the prop bets should have included how little dabbing Cam Newton would do, is the concussions. That’s why everyone from Mike Ditka to President Obama have said they wouldn’t let their own kids play. But if you still believe the game can be a valuable provider of life lessons (or your retirement plan depends on the freakish athlete you’re raising), there’s a potential solution that involves … a choke collar?
Helmets are great at preventing cranial fractures but pretty ineffective at stopping the brain from bouncing off the inside of the skull — which is what actually causes the concussion. Researchers at NorthShore University Health System studied bighorn sheep and woodpeckers to figure out why they seem to smash their skulls into hard things all day long with no negative repercussions for their brains. They discovered both animals adjust the pressure and volume in their skulls by increasing blood flow to the brain, which lightens the impact. To mimic this effect in your kid, the researchers designed a collar that applies “gentle compression” to the jugular vein, which slightly reduces the flow of blood down to the heart. That increases the amount of blood in the brain and, presto chango, softens the blow. At least, it does in rats.
The collar is being developed by Julian Bailes, a former team doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers who’s credited with helping discover and publicize chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is the brain disease plaguing so many former NFL players. Needless to say, he has as vested an interest in ensuring players don’t just black out as he does in preventing concussions — the collar applies pressure similar to that of a necktie. It will be a while before it’s ready for purchase, so maybe get Junior used to the concept by sending him to the playground in your old Father’s Day presents.