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SMU Football Players Will Hit The Field With Kevlar-Lined Helmets

Lauren Silverman
The green liner in this helmet created by Unequal Technologies features military-grade Kevlar.

The football players at SMU will be wearing something new under their helmet this season. At the first game of the season, SMU’s Mustangs will all be wearing helmets outfitted with ballistics-grade kevlar.

The technology is meant to reduce concussions.

Head Coach June Jones has led the charge toward concussion protection, limiting contact in practice long before the NCAA announced guidelines. Now, he’s the first Division 1 college coach to require all his players to wear a special pad inside their helmets.

Credit Unequal Technologies
Unequal Technologies
The green helmet liner created by Unequal Technologies featuring military-grade Kevlar.

“I see this product as something that is going to change the game,” he says. “I think it’ll be mandatory that everyone has one of these in their helmet.”

The Technology

The 8 ounce, “hulk green” padding is created by Unequal Technologies. The Philadelphia-based company has sold military-grade Kevlar padding for sports equipment to football players like Tony Rom, Joe Haden and Ryan Clark.

“If we can stop a bullet, we can certainly stop a blitz.”

Founder Rob Vito tells KERA the company slogan.

In testing the product, Vito once had someone smash a Louisville Slugger bat across his chest. He claims the helmet will be like armor for the head.

“It’s comprised of an impact shield, a layer of Kevlar, and then a layer of Accelleron,” Vito explains. “And these three layers together help dissipate about 50 percent of that energy that would normally go inside the head through the composite.”

There’s no doubt helmet technology has come a long way since the leather “head harnesses” with flaps and ear holes used in a century ago. But neurologists warn that bullet-proof or not, there’s not a single helmet on the market that’s going to prevent concussions.

Your Brain Is Like An Egg Yolk

Dr. Michael Collins directs the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program. His patients have included NFL stars Brian Westbrook and Tim Tebow. He says concussions are caused by the brain moving around inside the skull, and no helmet can stop that movement.

Credit Shutterstock
Dr. Michael Collins says your brain is like an egg yolk, and to prevent concussions we have to prevent it from moving inside the skull.

“The way the brain is situated in the skull is much like an egg yolk is inside an eggshell,” he says. “And until we find a helmet that goes around the egg yolk itself, it’s impossible to stop the biomechanical forces that would cause concussive injury.”

Now, Unequal Technologies’ Rob Vito doesn’t claim his $60 dollar helmet pad can prevent concussions — he does say it can significantly lower the risk of concussions.

Collins points out there’s no peer reviewed research to back that claim. He worries technologies that make players feel invincible could actually make concussions worse.

The Texas Testing Ground

The race is on to find a technology that can prevent concussions — for college, professional, and high school football players. The challenge is coming up with something that doesn’t just protect the skull, but the yolk inside as well.

This season, the Mustang’s team doctors will collect concussion data for Unequal Technologies.

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.