The NFL has been progressively transferring from the natural grass fields of old to artificial turf in NFL stadiums with 15 NFL teams utilizing artificial turf presently. NFL players have voiced their dislike for artificial playing surfaces before but following the stretch of terrible injuries for the 49ers playing at MetLife stadium in back to back weeks (Jets and Giants share MetLife Stadium) the conversation has become a top priority for the NFLPA (NFL Players Association) and its president JC Tretter (Cleveland Browns, Center). The players have voiced their opinion but what will the NFL’s response be? Let’s break down some of the pros of cons of artificial turf and see why the NFL needs to listen to the players.
The Pros of Artificial Turf
- Requires little to no maintenance
- Longer lifespan than a grass field
- More environmentally friendly
- No pesticides or fertilizers required
- Saves on water with no watering required
- Surface is unaffected by inclement weather
- Withstands heavy foot traffic and general wear and tear better than a grass field
- Some argue that the non-slip surface and lower rate of potholes, uneven surfaces or upturned terrain but the statistics disprove this and will be discussed in the cons section
The Cons of Artificial Turf
The big turnoff for the use of artificial turf is an alarming increase rate in non-contact related injuries to lower extremities. Data analysis done by the NFLPA of injury reports from all NFL games from 2011-2019 found that there were 32% more non-contact knee injuries on turf and 69% more non-contact ankle injuries.
In the Steelers week 1 matchup with the Giants, the Steelers right tackle Zach Banner suffered a season ending ACL injury and also saw James Conner get his foot stuck in the turf causing an ankle injury that ended his day after just 15 snaps. In a post game interview with Minkah Fitzpatrick the Steelers safety said, “It’s unfortunate to see all those injuries at MetLife. I’m very fortunate mine was just an ankle roll. My belief is I was being protected or something. It’s unfortunate those guys had to have their seasons taken away from them because of the turf.” This spurred follow-on questions about how the players prepare differently for games on turf to which Fitzpatrick explained “I am not a very big fan of artificial turf. There is no give to it at all. When we play on regular grass, the grass might shift or come up a little bit. If you put a whole lot of weight into the ground on artificial turf there is no give whatsoever. The only thing that’s going to give is your body.”
The 49ers’ Arik Armstead also voiced his displeasure by tweeting “fix this trash MetLife turf.” The NFL responded by inspecting the field and deemed the field was acceptable for play. The NFL may deem it playable but it’s quite clear the players couldn’t disagree more and it clearly is something they have lingering in their mind every time they step on the field. These athletes shouldn’t step onto a field that leaves them into a mental limbo wondering if their next change of direction is going to majorly alter their career all because the NFL allows teams to own a hazardous playing surface.
Contact is part of the game and contact related injuries are unavoidable. The NFL has been flexible in the past and has always been a forever adapting league as more data is brought forward they will adjust rules or gear accordingly so why hasn’t anything been done to correct this clearly avoidable spike in injuries? NFL teams have the ability to choose their own stadiums playing surface so an intervention from the NFL head office shouldn’t be necessary but with NFL teams trending towards more artificial turf fields instead of less pressure from the NFL head office may be necessary. The safety of the players should heavily outweigh the cost difference and maintenance work of the grass fields. Grass fields can still utilize field heating technology;like at Lambeau Field for example, to create surfaces that can be safe for players and can be used in inclement weather proving that you can have a grass field to increase players safety and also use technology to better the field surface in safe ways. In the coming weeks it will be interesting to see if any NFL teams will respond to the NFLPA’s request to eliminate artificial turf from the league entirely. There is no benefit for the players only for the head office and their wallets. If the injuries continue and there is no sign of change from the NFL or its franchises expect the NFLPA and NFL to clash the hardest we’ve seen since the 2011 NFL Player lockout!
Written By: Gabriel Anderson