Turf wars

Why all football organizations need to get rid of artificial turf fields

Artificial turf field has been a hot topic in the NFL since the 1970’s because of injury problems that players can face.

College football has also been using turf for years, and many high school fields have made the change from the natural grass over to the artificial turf.

The Bulldogs are one of the few college teams that play on turf. Top Taggart field has used artificial field since 2014. Former Bulldogs quarterback Jayru Campbell missed the 2018-2019 postseason with an ankle injury that was a result of a non-contact injury on the turf field.

Over the past ten years, the NFL has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to improve player safety. Of course, the majority of these initiatives have focused on head injuries, as youth contact football participation is dropping at an alarming rate. A little over $1 billion has been distributed by the league as part of the NFL concussion settlement program.

New regulations that aim to safeguard helpless players, prevent high-speed collisions and lessen concussions have been put into place and enforced. Additionally, players are now required to wear “Guardian Caps” during training camp.

However, the NFL appears to have overlooked another significant issue that is there in front of them: the argument over whether artificial turf fields or real grass are preferable. New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a torn achilles while playing at Met-Life stadium on Sept. 11, where the Jets play on turf.

For those who are unaware of the background, artificial turf fields were created in the 1950s as a method for urban communities to cover the asphalt on their playgrounds and resemble the grass that children enjoyed in suburban areas. However, sports organizations soon grew interested in them, and the Houston Astros became the first major league sports franchise to install an artificial surface in their brand new Astrodome.

There are already more than 8,000 artificial turf fields in the United States alone. This swiftly spread over clubs, leagues, communities and the entire nation. In the NFL, 16 of the 32 teams have synthetic turf in their home stadiums, or 50% of the league.

It may seem obvious why this is the case. Artificial turf fields are more expensive to install than grass, but they are significantly less expensive to maintain over time. They also give NFL owners the freedom to host other revenue-generating events like conferences and concerts in their stadium during the offseason.

Simply put, this enables owners to reduce annual maintenance expenditures by seven to eight figures and creatively transform what is typically considered a liability into an asset that generates income. It’s not as clear-cut as you may assume, though. NFL players have complained about artificial turf grounds. Because stars like Odell Beckham Jr. and Nick Bosa have blamed previous injuries on artificial turf, the NFL Players Association has taken action.

In a letter to the NFL published in 2021, former Cleveland Browns player and NFLPA President JC Tretter said that “artificial turf is significantly harder on the body than grass.” But after that, he displayed the figures:

“Based on NFL injury data collected from 2012 to 2018, not only was the contact injury rate for lower extremities higher during practices and games held on artificial turf, NFL players consistently experienced a much higher rate of non-contact lower extremity injuries on turf compared to natural surfaces,” Tretter said. “Specifically, players have a 28% higher rate of non-contact lower extremity injuries when playing on artificial turf. Of those non-contact injuries, players have a 32% higher rate of non-contact knee injuries on turf and a staggering 69% higher rate of non-contact foot/ankle injuries on turf compared to grass.”

Why then haven’t all NFL owners shifted to grass fields if the data is so clear? Their players are multi-million dollar investments, after all. The truth is that several stadiums have made an effort to be inventive.

Consider Arizona or Las Vegas as examples. Both the Cardinals and the Raiders play in enclosed stadiums, which normally demand for a grass field owing to the lack of sunshine. Instead, they each developed ways to make the field retractable, pulling it inside for game day via an electric motor system during the week so it can receive the necessary upkeep and sunlight.

They have the greatest flexibility possible thanks to the procedure, which takes roughly 60 minutes. For the other sixteen NFL teams, there are no longer any good justifications. The most lucrative sport in the world has made player safety a major concern, and while owners have the most power over specific players, my prediction is that the NFLPA will eventually push for this during future CBA negotiations.