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What do athletes and NFL players wear around their neck? Q Collar explained

Drue Tranquill of the Kansas City Chiefs and MLS star Omar González are among the sportspeople who wear the collar to protect themselves from brain damage.

Can the Q Collar help reduce brain damage in athletes?
X: @DTranquill

The physical demands placed on top athletes have never been higher. The sportspeople of today are faster, stronger and more relentless than ever before, pushing their boundaries to the very limit.

For the fans this makes for a thrilling spectacle with super-human feats now a regular occurrence at the elite level of sport. For the athletes, that push for greater performance can be dangerous.

In contact sports - with frequent, high-speed collisions - the risk of brain damage has gained greater awareness in recent years. To help mitigate the danger a growing number of NFL players and other athletes have started to take additional precautions on the field. Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Drue Tranquill will be wearing a device called the Q Collar in Super Bowl LVIII this Sunday, while three-time MLS Cup winner Omar González has been one of the loudest proponents of the collar in soccer.

The Q Collar works by applying pressure around the wearer’s neck, provoking a slight increase in blood volume in the brain’s venous structures. That additional blood, creators say, reduces brain movement within the skull and can prevent ‘brain slosh’, the tearing and stretching of brain fibers.

Scientists agree that the brain-saving premise behind the device is sound, but some have questioned the extent of the benefits that the Q Collar offers. What is not in doubt, however, is the need for greater protections for the athletes who put their long-term health at risk when they step on the field. To better understand what’s at stake, we spoke to FC Dallas defender Omar González as he prepares for the new season in MLS.

Why do players wear the Q Collar neck device?

González, now 35, has enjoyed a stellar 15-year professional career, winning multiple titles in the United States and Mexico. Standing 6ft5 he was a commanding presence in the heart of defence for the all-conquering LA Galaxy side of David Beckham and Landon Donovan. Across a decade-and-a-half as a pro he has won countless headers and blocked innumerable shots; recently, he started wearing Q Collar after looking into ways to protect himself.

He tells AS USA: “There’s teammates I had who’s careers ended early. In my rookie year Alecko Eskandarian had to retire just from a ball hitting him in the head, because he had repetitive concussions. I think I’d always thought about about it, but I didn’t think about how I can protect myself and what’s out there that can mitigate head injuries. TBI [traumatic brain injury], brain sloshing... those are things that I didn’t really think about.”

What do athletes and NFL players wear around their neck? Q Collar explained

He was aware of the danger from the start of his career but it wasn’t until much later that he took steps to help mitigate the risk. Within soccer, and in other fields, the understanding of brain damage has improved dramatically in recent years and he was able to take steps to help reduce the risk.

“Back in 2021 I had a couple head injuries, before [the Q Collar] was out, and they weren’t injuries or impact that took me out of a game or made me miss training. But I got kicked in the face, got stitches, a chipped tooth, over the span of a couple of months... And I didn’t miss training but once I went to the training facility and the security guard - who I would say ‘Hi’ to every day - I looked him in the eye and his name just wouldn’t come to my mind. So there were moments when I was forgetting things, and that was really scary.”

Shortly after that Gonzàlez was introduced to the Q Collar and has worn it for every training session and match since.

What are the risks of brain damage in sport?

Brain damage is becoming a hot topic in sport, with academy studies and legal cases outlining the long-term effects that repeated impacts can have on neurological functions. A study from Boston University found that 91.7% of 376 former NFL players studied suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Earlier this year 19 former soccer players in the UK brought legal action over brain injuries they believe were sustained during their careers. These advances are sparking more conversations within sport, but the Dallas defender wants to see more players seriously consider taking additional protection.

“I’d like to talk to more players about it, and I hope that more players will want to wear it. Because if it can prolong your career, if it can give you a better life after sport to be with your family, then why not wear it?” González says.

But who’s responsibility should it be to take care of athletes’ long-term health? Gonzàlez, Tranquill and a growing number of other NFL players have been proactive in assessing the risks, but not all athletes will have the time or the inclination to look into the subject.

In most sports the gameday kit is fairly formulaic with players tending to wear whatever is mandated; does more effort need to be made to educate players about the options that are available to them?

González answers: “I think that players need to be made aware of what, potentially, can happen. If the head impacts continue to happen and what that road looks like, at the end. Maybe they would have a different outlook on what they can be doing now so that doesn’t happen.”

“Like anything the more informed - the more knowledgeable you are about the subject - that’s your power.”