Blowers Racing

Spearheading Sports Quality

If the NFL cares deeply about player safety, then why are teams still playing on artificial turf?

If the NFL cares deeply about player safety, then why are teams still playing on artificial turf?

Rashan Gary

Rashan Gary
Photo: Getty Images

In the inherently violent contact sport of football, there’s only so much that can be done to make the game safe. Ensuring the safety of its players should be the No. 1 concern for any football league, especially the NFL. Over the past decade, the league’s favorite slogan has been “player safety.”

They’ve done a better job of protecting players in certain phases of the game, like eliminating many big hits like the ones that were once featured on ESPN’s “Jacked Up” segment. The NFL has done everything short of placing red practice jerseys on quarterbacks to protect their headliners from unnecessary harm. Even with specific provisions in place, it is still football, and players will get hurt.

While head trauma is one of the biggest concerns in the game, lower extremity injuries are also common. We often see players get hurt by planting awkwardly with no one within five yards of them. These injuries usually happen in stadiums with artificial turf. Green Bay Packers veteran linebacker De’Vondre Campbell recently posted on Instagram about how dangerous playing on artificial turf can be.

“This is two weeks in a row we’ve had players get injured on turf fields. I think it’s time y’all take some of the money y’all make off us and invest in grass fields for every team around the league. The turf is literally like concrete it has no give when you plant @NFL”

Campbell illustrates a great point. Why are NFL teams still playing on fake grass in 2022? If the league cares so much about the safety of players, you’d think they would’ve done away with turf years ago. Or maybe the NFL only cares about injuries that could land them in court, like concussions.

For the NFL and its team’s owners, it’s all about cost-cutting where they can to maximize profitability. Remember that the NFL is a business. Artificial turf is easier and cheaper to keep up than natural grass. The game moves faster on turf, but if it’s detrimental to player safety, it isn’t worth it.

Fourteen NFL stadiums still have turf, which accounts for 16 teams across the league playing home games on the artificial surface. The Chargers and Rams share SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., while the Giants and Jets play at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. A study by University Hospitals Sports Medicine Institute found that athletes are more likely to suffer an injury on artificial turf than on grass.

“They found athletes were 58 percent more likely to sustain an injury during athletic activity on artificial turf. Injury rates were significantly higher for football,” the sports medicine institute stated. “Lower extremity, upper extremity, and torso injuries were also found to occur with a higher incidence on artificial turf.”

In 2020, NFLPA President JC Trotter, a retired center who played for the Packers and the Cleveland Browns, wrote a letter discussing the grass/turf debate.

In short, NFL clubs should proactively change all field surfaces to natural grass. The NFL is a machine that chews players up and spits ‘em out when they are finished sucking the life out of them. Yes, many are paid handsomely, but if you’re not a coveted star QB, you’re easily expendable no matter how much talent you possess or how many touchdowns you’ve scored. If you blow out a knee, it’s always “next man up.” There used to be a saying that you couldn’t lose your job due to injury.

That’s one of the biggest lies ever told in football. Guys lose their starting spots frequently because they got hurt, and the replacement came in and played well above their pay grade. In what’s become the most infamous case of this, Tom Brady replaced Drew Bledsoe for the Patriots in 2001, and the rest is history. Kurt Warner also began a run for the St. Louis Rams that landed him in the Hall of Fame after relieving Trent Green, who’d been injured in a preseason game.

So, it’s not rare that players get hurt and never get their jobs back. If it happens to football players at the most coveted position, then everyone else is more than fair game. We’ve known how lousy turf fields are and how much players hated them for decades. The fake surfaces today are a little better than in the 1990s, but we still hear complaints about how counterintuitive it is to be playing on turf knowing the risks.

Most players probably smirk when they see these campaigns the NFL runs about making the game safer. And to the league’s credit, they have made changes to do just that. But it shouldn’t take litigation for them to care. That seems to be the only thing that gets the ball rolling for them to pay attention. The NFL had information on concussions for years before they were forced to publicly acknowledge this as a real threat to the game.

Nobody would argue that knees, ankles, and feet injuries are as severe as repeated blows to the head. But if you claim your players’ health is a top priority, why not go the extra mile to ensure they can play as long as possible? Artificial turf has been a nuisance to athletes for years, and the NFL should try listening to its most valuable asset sometimes instead of continually looking in the other direction. That is, until it lands them in court.

We’re constantly bombarded with data about how much these organizations are worth and how much money the league brings in, which are billions each year. Spending extra money to help cut down on some injuries due to horrible playing surfaces won’t send the NFL and its owners to the poor house anytime soon.