In the wake of New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s recent achilles injury due to artificial turf, the football world is tugging at the question:
“Is artificial turf really the safest option?”
The question regarding the safety of artificial turf is nothing new. The debate has recently gained new life in the sports world as injuries have risen in recent years. The Sports Medicine Review shared a study conducted in 2019 that has added to the controversy of whether professional and collegiate football need to be moved to grass fields.
According to the study, “Lower extremity injuries had a higher incidence on artificial turf when compared to natural grass. A total of 4,801 lower extremity injuries occurred over five seasons in the National Football League (NFL).”
The article added that other injuries involving knees, posterior cruciate ligaments and anterior cruciate ligaments are happening at a much higher rate on artificial turf as compared to grass.
Rodgers is the most recent example, and though he is not the only player who has been negatively impacted by turf, he is one who has recently spoken out regarding changing all fields to natural grass.
Last November, Rodgers advocated for natural grass fields across the NFL, but no changes were made. Now, after his season-ending injury, he and other athletes have united together to advocate – yet again – for grass fields rather than turf. Together, they argue that if studies and data have proven that natural grass is safer than artificial turf, then the safer option should be used.
Many NFL and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) players have said they prefer grass over artificial turf, saying that it is not only safer but that it also feels better to play on.
“The numbers say that grass is healthier for the players, and I want to play on the surface that keeps me healthy,” said Kansas City Chiefs Quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.
Executive Vice President of Communications for the NFL, Jeff Miller, stated via ESPN that “The committee, including the National Football League Player Association’s (NFLPA) experts, believe that simply playing on natural grass is not the answer to this complex challenge. Some artificial turf surfaces have a lower injury rate than some grass fields – and some grass fields have a lower injury rate than some artificial surfaces.”
Data showing that the rate for noncontact lower-extremity injuries on artificial turf rose to a rate of 0.048 per 100 in 2022 refutes this comment by Miller. The corresponding rate on grass was much lower: 0.035, according to an ESPN article.
The Commissioner for the NFL, Roger Goodell, was asked about this controversy on Sept. 13 on ESPN’s “First Take” and said that some players actually prefer the artificial turf over the grass because it’s faster.
With the NFL season already three weeks in, athletes have started speaking out against the artificial turf. Los Angeles Rams wide receiver, Cooper Kupp, recently shared his thoughts on Twitter about this issue.
“I believe that we, and all teams, should be playing on grass. This is an age-old issue and I believe the time to address the problem is now,” said Kupp’s tweet on Nov. 12, 2022.
Green Bay Packers left tackle and Rodgers ex-teammate, David Bakhtiari, spoke out after his former teammate suffered his season-ending injury. He said he knows the NFL is a business and is always looking to follow the money.
“Owners can wait to demand something in return during the next contract negotiations, and artificial surfaces help them make money hosting other events. That’s the bottom dollar, bottom line. Follow the money,” Bakhtiari said on social media.
He added later in the post that the game they play is “a violent enough game.”
“You have enough great players not out there, the quality of the game and the sport goes down,” Bakhtiari said. “No one wants that.”
Even more recently, several Detroit Lions players were injured on Sept. 17. Although there has been no word on whether the turf played a part in these injuries, Ford Field, the Lions’ home field, is known for its “bad turf.” The playing surface is made of slit film turf.
“It has a statistically higher in-game injury rate compared to other synthetic surfaces like monofilament and dual fiber. There are more non-contact injuries sustained on that turf, more games missed because of injuries, more lower-extremity injuries and more foot and ankle injuries,” said NFL Players Association president JC Tretter in an MLive article.
Ford Field is one of six stadiums that use this style of turf and injuries are seen consistently on each of these fields. Among them are MetLife Stadium (New York Giants/Jets), U.S. Bank Stadium (Minnesota Vikings), Caesars Superdome (New Orleans Saints), Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis Colts) and Paycor Stadium (Cincinnati Bengals). Several of the key players that were hurt in past weeks were hurt on one of these fields. Rodgers, Joe Burrow and David Montgomery are among these athletes.
At what point is this going to stop?
Here at Albion College, our athletes have reason to be interested in the debate. Football, soccer and lacrosse teams play on turf throughout their seasons. There seem to be split opinions on this topic. Turf has proven to be faster and easier to navigate, but is this worth the injury spike that we have witnessed?
Philip Aukema, senior defensive lineman from Holland, Michigan makes a great point when it comes to what athletes want.
“I like turf. It’s faster and is easier to maneuver on. Even with the higher rate of injuries, I would rather play on turf,” Aukema said.
Aukema does not stand alone when it comes to this point of view. Many athletes like the speed and agility that turf allows them to have. This opinion does, however, come with more liability, as the data has proven grass to be safer.
With all the new data and injuries on display, it is hard for me to believe that turf is the better option for all athletes. Whether it’s football, soccer, lacrosse or any other sport that could use turf, I think it’s important that we ask the question:
“Is turf really the best option?”
I understand that turf is faster and probably easier to have better performance on, but at what cost? The injuries are only increasing and it seems as if even more have to occur before action is taken. Whether it’s high school, college or the NFL, the decision should not be based on what seems best for the game. Rather, it should be what is best for the safety of every athlete.
As the season continues, the sports world will be looking up to Goodell and other sports leaders to make a decision on this issue. Will more teams continue to lose players to turf-caused injuries, or will sports officials take action? Ultimately, the data and the athletes have been loud and clear.
After all, what good is a sport with a bunch of injured players?