There’s been a lot of discussion over whether Michael Vick was at fault for getting injured yet again the other night. That’s silly talk, since Vick was hit in the pocket and not while foolishly scrambling for an extra yard. Almost any other Philly athlete would be applauded for being as stubbornly tough as Vick (hello, Chase Utley). But, for reasons that probably touch a bit on race, the knee-jerk reaction is to blame Vick for playing the game as hard as he can.
There is one thing that Vick may be at fault for, though.
ESPN’s Darren Rovell tweeted last night that Vick was not wearing a rib protection shirt that he endorses… according to the company that makes said rib protection shirt.
In January, 2011, Vick signed an endorsement deal with Philly area-based Unequal, makers of “military grade, battle tested composite, breathable, lightweight and comfortable” padded under armor (ambiguous) that protects against “harsh blows on any battlefield.” Get all that? Unequal made Vick a special shock-absorbing chest protector in the fall of 2010 to help him return from a rib cartilage injury. After his first game back, against the Colts, Vick credited Unequal for making him feel “invincible." That comment sparked talks between the two sides and it eventually led to the endorsement deal. [This Wall Street Journal article detailed the courtship between Vick and Unequal.]
In a statement, Vick had said the following: "Unequal's protective power gives me a whole new level of confidence in my game. It makes me feel invincible."
Maybe he doesn't like the way that feels: Vick has now twice injured his ribs since signing his deal with Unequal: He broke them last season, causing him to miss three games, and now has a “contusion” that will likely keep him out until at least Week 1.
Those injuries may be the result of Vick not fulfilling the obligations of his endorsement deal with Unequal.
I spoke with Unequal President Rob Vito this morning. He confirmed Rovell's report that Vick wasn’t wearing Unequal on Monday night: “Mike Vick was not wearing the Unequal Exo Armor chest protector shirt. We are waiting for the Eagles equipment manager to place the order so that Vick can be custom-fitted for the 2012 season.”
Here’s where it gets fun, though: Vito fired a shot at Nike. He believes that Vick was wearing the NFL’s standard issue Nike Combat undershirt on Monday night and when he suffered his rib injury against the Cardinals last season.
In an Unequal press release from last December, Vick confirmed Vito’s claim:
Since breaking his ribs last season in a game against the Washington Redskins, the Philadelphia Eagles QB has been wearing an UNEQUAL Body Armor built into a thermally insulated winter weight shirt, as Vick instructed. Facing unexpected hot temperatures in last month's game against theArizona Cardinals, Vick opted to forgo the UNEQUAL winter weight body armor and instead wore a competitors' protective gear that resulted in Vick breaking two ribs and missing the last three games.
"I wore a different one, not made by UNEQUAL," he admitted. "I switched it up because the UNEQUAL gear was a winter weight and it was hot that day. Bottom line: I didn't use UNEQUAL and got hurt. I now regret it."
Vito says Vick is required to wear Unequal gear on the field per the terms of their agreement. However, the company’s president is respectful of the fact that players often feel pressured to wear equipment from big-name brands and league sponsors, such as Nike.
Unequal, which was founded in 2008, supplies protective gear to many in the NFL, including Tony Romo and the St. Louis Rams. Vito says he once had ESPN's Ed Werder hit him in the chest with a shovel to demonstrate durability of Unequal Exo Armor (I would love to find that video).
On 97.5 The Fanatic yesteday, Phils Simms told Jon Marks and Brian Baldinger he thought it was “crazy” that Vick wasn’t wearing rib protection, especially in a preseason game.
Andy Reid, however, believes that Vick was wearing some sort of protection. Here’s what he said after the game: [Philly.com]
"We have a variety of flak jackets, the cumbersome ones and the ones that are a little more flexible," Reid said.
Vick's injury showed that the protective gear was either insufficient or inadequate. Even Reid admitted as much after the game.
"Whatever he had on didn't work," Reid said. "But listen, things happen."
Apparently, the whatever he had on was Nike, not Unequal. Says Unequal.