September 2011, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo cracked his ribs and punctured a lung during a game against the San Francisco 49ers. He led his team onto the field one week later wearing reinforced chest pads provided by Unequal Technologies, a Philadelphia-based manufacturer of protective gear made from composites.
Unequal Technologies created a line of athletic protective gear ranging from helmets to hip pads. The company adopted military-grade composite materials, such as highintensity aramid fibers and polycarbonate blends, and engineered them into its EXO Armor and Concussion Reduction Technology (CRT) lines. “We adopted the composite technology because it is lightweight, thin, flexible and provides a better solution for protection,” says Rob Vito, CEO of Unequal Technologies.
The company’s protective products rely on three layers of composite material. Two layers of elastomer are sandwiched around a thin layer of Kevlar®. Together, they suppress, absorb and disperse impact shock.
“Kevlar is five times stronger than steel and the No. 1 shock suppression material,” Vito told a CNBC reporter in 2010. “You combine that with elastomers and all of a sudden you’ve got the best shock suppression system in the world.”
Hundreds of athletes on more than 20 NFL and NHL teams use pads from Unequal Technologies. Michael Vick, quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, began endorsing Unequal Technologies after breaking two ribs during the 2011 season. The company created a special vest to protect his sternum from future injuries. James Harrison, linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, turned to CRT pads after fracturing his right orbital bone in a game last fall. “It’s like taking Novocain,” says Harrison. “You don’t actually feel the pain, just a little pressure.” According to the company, testing conducted by an independent lab confirmed that football helmets with CRT protection had 53 percent lower impact readings than standard helmets.
Typical pads are made from polyethylene opened-cell foam that you can easily squeeze between your fingers, offering little to no protection. Heavy weight or hard impact compresses the foam to its limit. Unequal Technologies says its composite pads work this way: The initial shock is dampened at the point of contact by the top layer of elastomer. Then the Kevlar disperses the remaining shock laterally throughout the pads, preventing most of the impact energy from entering the body. The third layer of elastomer acts as a comfort cushion between the padding and the athlete.