It is often said North America’s professional football leagues don’t do enough to protect players, especially when it comes to the deeply concerning issue of concussions in a consistently violent game.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill has played in both the Canadian Football League and the National Football League and he, for one, believes there are things the players can do to help protect themselves.
One example is a device called the Q Collar (formerly known as the Bauer Neuroshield), which Bighill has been trying out and has worn in the last two games with the Bombers.
Bighill, who was named the most outstanding defensive player in the CFL last year after spending 2017 with the New Orleans Saints, first saw the device being worn by Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly on a trial basis two years ago.
The Q Collar is not yet approved by the FDA in the United States, so it is not yet being used regularly in the NFL, but it has been green-lighted by Health Canada and Bighill was eager to give it a try in hopes of minimizing some of the impacts he takes during the course of an average game.
“It’s about safety, it’s about longevity,” Bighill, 30, said Tuesday after the Blue Bombers practised at IG Field.
“How many hits do you take that are three out of 10 in a year? Those little hits do cause structural changes over the long term. A product like this has shown to effectively minimize even those small, repeated hits over time.”
The idea behind the Q Collar is to apply light pressure to the jugular veins to slightly increase the blood volume inside a player’s skull. This helps reduce the brain’s movement, which is said to be the primary cause of concussions.
Obviously, it’s not foolproof and players can still suffer serious head trauma but it’s about reducing the impact of taking many hits, over time.
“Instantly I was interested and I started learning the technology and about jugular compression and reserving a little bit of extra blood in the brain, which creates a little bit less sloshing around, the smashing of the brain in the skull,” Bighill said.
“It’s supposed to help with sports-related impacts. For me, I’ve worn it now for two weeks and I’ve already noticed a difference in how some of these hits are occurring and how I feel.”
Bighill started out by wearing the collar around the house, just to get used to it. Then he started wearing it in practice, but those are unpadded, so he had to wait to get into a game to see how it would feel in full action.
After missing three games in July with a hamstring injury, Bighill finally returned to the lineup on July 26 in Hamilton and was wearing the device for the first time.
“We all talk about player safety, we all talk about brain safety and this is just another step,” Bighill said.
“It’s really unique and if it’s gonna help me with my safety, I’m gonna listen up.”
Bighill is not alone in wearing the device. His teammates, Jeff Hecht and Jake Thomas, are also giving it a try and several members of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, including sack-master Charleston Hughes, are also wearing it in games.
Bighill said a lot of players took notice when San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland retired a few years ago, after just one season in the NFL, because of a fear of head trauma.
Bighill wants to continue playing and wants the game to thrive for a long time — and he also wants to have a good qualify of life for his wife and kids after the game — and believes this kind of device can make a difference.
“At the end of the day it’s about kids being able to stay safe,” Bighill said. “I’ve coached so many camps, so many young football players, and talked to so many parents who are worried about safety for their kids and, granted, I would be for my kids as well.
“A lot of parents are wondering if they should let their kids play football right now. Obviously, this is another step to be able to create more safety and give parents some peace of mind and make them more confident that kids will be safer out there, playing.”
Bighill expects athletes across many sports to think differently with regard to protecting against head trauma
It has been tested and worn in football, soccer, hockey, lacrosse, skiing, cycling and auto racing and Adam Bighill expects many athletes in those sports to give the Q Collar a try.
It’s not really possible to measure the success of such a device in the short term, but Bighill, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers star middle linebacker, believes it’s worth taking a chance to try to reduce brain injuries over the long term.
“It’s just thinking way differently, thinking beyond the helmet of how we alter our physiology really to protect against head trauma,” Bighill said.
“I think it will be something that we are going to see become more and more prevalent across all sports.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019