Devices' inventors want to better equip players

The Baltimore Sun

Neither Dr. Gerald Maher, team dentist for the New England Patriots, nor Bert Straus, an industrial design engineer in Baltimore, will attend the NFL's concussion conference in Chicago today.

But what they have to offer may be relevant to the continuing debate over concussions.

Maher says he has a mouth guard the Patriots use that can cut down on concussions originating in the jaw. Straus says he has expanded the technology he used to create a protective cover over Mark Kelso's helmet in the late 1980s after the former Buffalo Bills safety experienced a number of concussions.

Straus has designed a full helmet - called the Gladiator - that he will test in Philadelphia and Washington high schools in the fall. "It's directed at the heart of the issue, equipment improvement," said Straus, who owns Protective Sports Equipment Inc., in Erie, Pa.

Maher has tried to get support for his mouth guard with the league but twice was rejected for an NFL research grant that could prove its merit. Now, Maher says, he's talking to the military about taking his mouth guard to Iraq, where U.S. soldiers have experienced a significant increase in concussions.

His acrylic mouth guard must be custom-fitted. The screening process, he said, is critical, "because you have to know where to [align] the jaw. There's a lot of science involved with it."

The key is to dissipate the force exerted on the temporomandibular joint in the jaw. According to one of the studies of the NFL's concussion committee, some 70 percent of concussions originate at the jaw.

Meanwhile, Kelso, a color commentator with the Bills and a high school coach in Lancaster, N.Y., said Straus' Pro Cap extended his NFL career by five years. The expanded version will have a softer urethane coating over the hard shell.

"I designed one dorky-looking product," Straus said of the Pro Cap worn by Kelso. "But the thing worked. After seven years in the pros, it fell out of favor, primarily because of looks.

"This helmet will be well-received on looks, providing it demonstrates the performance advantage."

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