Well before he reached the National Football League, a big-time hit he took at the University of Florida made Joe Haden fully realize the risk of head-on collisions.
"Major Wright [Haden's teammate] hit me head-to-head," Haden recalls. "We were on defense. He was going for a hit, I think he closed his eyes, and he smacked me. I got up and walked to the wrong sideline." Though never officially diagnosed with an injury, Haden says, "I know I was concussed." While he didn't miss any game time then, Haden says he'd act differently today.
"What's going on with people who played in the league before and are all messed up now, I don't like seeing that," Haden says. "I want to be healthy when I leave the game."
With that goal this past off-season, Haden partnered with Unequal Technologies, a company that makes impact-protection equipment for athletes and the military.
Unequal's padding combines durable cushioning with Kevlar and a protective polymer layer to help disperse the shock from big hits. Football players can use the Gyro, special padding that fits snugly inside their helmets, and the Viper Girdle, which protects their hips, thighs and tailbone. To work for an athlete as competitive as Haden, the gear needs to be light. Speed is critical for a cornerback, especially one who aims to limit every pass-catcher he faces to 55 yards or less per game, as Haden has said he wants to do this season. To achieve that, he'll need to be in top form—and for his gear to feel weightless.
"As long as I'm as light as possible, I'll be ok," Haden says. "I'll be able to move how I want with Unequal."
Haden won't be alone wearing Unequal. Other NFL players like James Harrison and Larry Fitzgerald have already used it. Haden hopes his decision to suit up with the impact protection brand might influence other players in the league and at lower levels of the game. He says, "I'm just trying to look out for the newest technology, and with this relationship, I want to get other people involved with safety."
Unequal Gyro $80, unequal.com
Gyro easily slides inside any hard-shell football helmet to provide additional impact protection. Its padding combines Kevlar, the stronger-than-steel fiber used by the military and law enforcement; a shock-absorbing material called Acceleron; and a thin but powerful layer of ImpacShield plastic. Channels in the molded design allow airflow, helping to keep the head cool and dry during play. And the entire padding unit is hand-washable, so it can stay fresh (not funky) all season long.
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