PHILADELPHIA -- Michael Vick will have new padding next season to protect him from all those crunching hits.
Unequal Technologies, a provider of the football pads Vick wore most of last season, released a product Wednesday designed to help prevent concussions and other head injuries.
"I haven't had problems with concussions in the past, knock on wood, so hopefully that won't happen in the future," Vick said, "but I will wear the padding in the helmet to prevent concussions and hopefully a lot of players in the league will do the same thing."
Unequal Technologies makes several shock-blocking sports pads. The latest is the EXO Skeleton line of supplemental full-body, protective performance padding. These are lightweight, thin and flexible pads designed to be inserted inside a helmet to help absorb the shock from a collision.
The harmful effects of concussions and the long-term damage resulting from all head injuries have dominated sports headlines during the past few years, particularly in pro football.
The NFL has cracked down on improper hits and put new emphasis on prevention and care by increasing fines and threatening suspensions. Similar precautions are being implemented at the game's lower levels.
Last month, a study by Virginia Tech researchers revealed that 40 percent of NFL players last season wore a helmet model that got the second-lowest rating for reducing the risk of concussions.
"We needed a new standard to prevent your brain from getting injured and not just your skull from getting fractured," said Unequal Technologies chief executive officer Rob Vito, whose company does not make helmets. "We're bypassing helmet manufacturers who believe they have a solution. We need to raise the bar."
Vick began using padding designed by Unequal last year after missing three games due to a rib injury. He first used a vest and later wore shoulder pads and thigh pads made by the company.
"What's important to me is that I'm able to go out and play my style of game and not worry about being tight and not be able to move," Vick said.
Vick was one of the league's top stars during his six seasons in Atlanta before his 2007 arrest and later conviction on dogfighting charges, for which he served 18 months in federal prison.
"Here's a guy who was injured, who had his ribs damaged, his quad bruised and needed the product to get back in the game," Vito said. "As he put it, Unequal was the reason for his season."
EXO Skeleton padding is available for several other sports besides football, including hockey, baseball and lacrosse.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press